How (not) to Hire a Development Director


Summer is always a hot time for hiring, as fiscal years wrap up and professionals look to make their next career moves, or are bounced out for not meeting expectations. This is a particularly challenging time to find fundraising talent, as we approach full employment, and well qualified candidates have lots of opportunity in front of them.

Much has been said about the relative professionalism of fundraisers and the constant turnover in our industry. Change will happen, and your non-profit will have openings. So, do yourself a favor and avoid these avoidable errors with your next fundraising hire. Your search will inevitably be a costly failure if you:

Ignore internal candidates: Hiring from outside is expensive and costs time and relationships. Is there someone internally you can promote, who is worthy of coaching and investment to grow into a real leader? This lack of imagination for growing internal talent is one of the biggest mistakes non-profits make. Consider, strongly, internal candidates for your next opening, and what support they might need to be successful.

Don’t put a premium on candidates who care deeply about your Cause. Almost everyone who works in non-profits cares specifically about the mission of their organization, except (too often) the fundraising staff. Look for qualified candidates who care deeply about your work, and not those who just want more money or less hassle then their current job.

Accept candidates who’ve moved three times in five years. Or more. The average tenure is 18 months for any fundraising job, but not for everyone. Why, then, do non-profits keep hiring these guys who bounce from job to job. What do you think is going to happen, that you are the One, at last? Forget it. Bouncers bounce. You will get burned again and again.

Put Higher Education experience as Holy and Sacred. There are many college fundraisers who are quite good, but so what? Are they worth the money? I don’t know. What I do know is that colleges and universities have gigantic engaged alumni bases and staggering resources to bring to fundraising programs. Does that mean that a couple of years of university fundraising experience makes your candidate viable for a CDO job of a complex program? Doubtful.

Make “who would I most like to have a beer with?” a deciding factor. This is so stupid as a consideration, and often what reinforces barriers of entry from marginal populations. We tend to have beers with people like ourselves, and if this is a factor, you are going being unfair. Drink beer with your friends. Hire qualified professionals for your fundraising programs.

Embrace Youth at the expense of competence and experience. I get that there is a youth movement underway, and it is a positive thing for the most part. But I also see organizations ignore experienced professionals in favor of attractive youngsters. This is a mistake.

Ask, “What is the biggest gift you’ve closed?” Of all stupid interview questions I’ve heard in my career, this is the stupidest. It has been asked of me in every single job interview since grad school. Major gifts take years to develop for the most part. Someone is going to be there to secure the gift. Compared with progressive management responsibility, a history of successful engagement of board members and community leaders, and the ability to communicate in person and in writing, closing a couple of fat gifts should matter little.

Don’t know what sort of leader you seek. This is where organizations fail so often, in not knowing what they seek to begin with. Do you need a Gift Closer, who will Lone Wolf all the giving, never visiting the office? Do you need a manager who will keep all the program elements moving along? Most fundraisers are good at one but not both of these things. One of the best bosses I ever had led a big staff and complex program, but was just bad in a room with donors. And because you don’t know what you want, you will hire the millennial university fundraiser with modest experience (but good looks), and pay them too much. You will enjoy chatting with them at cocktail parties. Until they quit.

Your next staff opening in the fundraising program is an opportunity, but only if you are thoughtful and realistic. Wonder Woman does not exist, and if she did, you could not afford her.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
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12 Responses to How (not) to Hire a Development Director

  1. Wow Jeremy! You just flamed people for having 3 job in 5 years. Um, dude… pot, meet kettle: You barely lasted two years at any of your jobs.

    And you might want to reference a more detailed study like this rather than your own opinions. Oh, and if you read it, you’d know that 75% of those that “bounce”, do so because the boards at their nonprofits aren’t doing their job. Not because we’re getting more money. That hasn’t happened since the Recession 9 years ago… about the last time you worked in the trenches.

  2. jeremymhatch says:

    Thanks Thomas, that’s a good read. People have short tenures on their CVs for all different reasons, including crappy boards as you point out. I’ve had two short tenures in 17 years in the business, both longer than 18 months, with one being recession of 08 related and the other too long a story to explain. My point is a caution to employers against candidates who go from job to job to job. You know the type. Not meant as an attack on those who leave a job or two. If there is a pattern, there is a problem. And it is a huge problem in our profession. We might disagree on that conclusion. But thanks for reading and replying!

  3. Thomas Gabriel says:

    Agreed on the last point, and frankly, several other of your comments including the ones about experience and “the biggest gift closed.” And, most certainly, I agree with the statement, “If there is a pattern, there is a problem.” However, more often than not, the problem is with the organization, not the fundraiser, and more often than not, those offering advice to the organization ignore that pearl of wisdom in their own myopic version of the “Emperor has no Clothes” because they are being paid by the organization to give them advice and it’s easier to “Victim blame” than address the real, underlying issues.

    So, in the end, we do disagree on the conclusion… C’est la vie.

    • jeremymhatch says:

      One disconnect I see is boards being unequipped to fulfill their obligations. Isn’t it a fundraisers responsibility to coach and inspire volunteers? To find those will help since not everyone can or will fundraiser? Of course every staff member who takes a survey will slag on the board, but if not the fundraiser, who to work the problem?

  4. Thomas Gabriel says:

    “Isn’t it a fundraisers responsibility to coach and inspire volunteers?” Of course it is, but they do not work in a vacuum, and to quote you, “There is no such thing as Wonder Woman.”

    “To find those will help since not everyone can or will fundraiser?” Then they shouldn’t be on a board, plain and simple. A Board member’s job, is one with a fiduciary responsibility, and their is no more important fiduciary responsibility than ensuring the financial solvancy of the organization they presume to be a part of. Being a board member is not an “honorific.” It is work, If they can’t or won’t do the work, they should be broomed, and quickly.

    “Of course every staff member who takes a survey will slag on the board, but if not the fundraiser, who to work the problem?” The Executive Director first, then the fundraiser. Come on, Jeremy, you know that.

  5. Colin Ware says:

    I think that another useful thread would be good questions to ask in an interview, and what documents should you request to review. The jumping jobs is very much a two way street.

  6. Pingback: Raise Cash. Save Lives. Embrace the Major Gifts Buddy System. | artful fund raiser

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