How to Hire a Great Fundraiser

by Seth Rosen

An open fundraising position means your nonprofit is losing out on cultivating donors and bringing in revenue. Here’s how to hire a great fundraiser.

Every day with an open fundraising position is a day your nonprofit is losing out on cultivating donors and bringing in revenue.

Have you been having a hard time finding a great fundraiser? If you say yes, you’re not alone.

In the nonprofit world it is always a buyer’s market for a fundraiser looking for a job. There are many, many more organizations that need to hire a great fundraiser than there are fundraisers. That’s just the way it is.

Don’t believe me?

As of November 12, 2014, the Chronicle of Philanthropy had 459 fundraising position postings listed from the last 30 days. had 2,292 fundraising jobs posted!

Of course, it’s even worse than that. These websites don’t even count the jobs that are only passed on by word of mouth or by recruiters that choose not to post widely.

Competition for good fundraisers is fierce, and in major markets like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. where there are large concentrations of nonprofits, it can be excruciating to find good people.

And this might be the most critical thing for your nonprofit. Every day with an open fundraising position is a day your nonprofit is losing out on cultivating donors and bringing in revenue.

You do need revenue, right?

So what can you do to successfully recruit the very best fundraiser out there? The one that’s going to reel in the big fish and help bring your nonprofit to the next level?

I only recently joined Joan Garry Consulting. Before that, I worked in development leadership positions at nonprofits like Amnesty International USA, Millennium Promise, Malaria No More, and GMHC.

So I’ve been in your shoes and learned a few things about what it takes to attract a fundraiser who, frankly, has lots of options.

I want to share with you what I’ve learned. Here are my top tips.


Hiring a great fundraiser is a lot like buying and selling real estate in a serious buyers’ market. And in a buyers’ market, the buyer (much like the fundraiser) has a big advantage.

That is why when recruiting senior development staff you must put in the same effort as if you were selling your own house. Take ownership of the process and understand that you have a deep stake in the outcome. Your success as an ED depends on it.

So how can you be a successful seller in a buyer’s market? Here are five tips.

Tip #1: Take An Inventory

The very first thing you must do, even before you draft a job description, is to take an honest inventory of your house. Document its challenges and strengths. Just like a house, your fundraising operation certainly has its issues and its charms. What are they?

Maybe your new Development Committee Chair has the warm personality of a sunlit living room. Perhaps your direct response program is leaking donors like a busted water pipe.

As an Executive Director you might be able to fix the more cosmetic problems before you begin recruiting, but if you don’t even know the problems that exist you will never know what qualifications you need in a candidate.

If you hire someone with strengths that don’t fit your problems, in six months you’ll be worse off than you are now.

Tip #2: Hire a “Realtor” (Recruiter)

Very few people have the time to sell their own home well, and even fewer organizations have the internal expertise to attract a top tier fundraiser. Do the smart thing and hire a recruiter.

Will this cost money? Absolutely. But it will save you money in the end.

A good recruiter will help you figure out the skills you need, and will do the legwork to get the best people in the door for you to interview. They will also contact people who are not checking job sites but who could be a great fit for your nonprofit.

And just like you wouldn’t hire a realtor with expertise in selling lofts to market your brownstone, find a recruiter that specializes in placing fundraisers. When I see a recruiter with zero nonprofit experience doing a fundraising search, I stay away.

Tip #3: Present Your Organization In The Best Light Possible

I’m going to share with you two actual, real-world real estate listings.

Talk about lousy first impressions!

Would either of these (actual) real estate listing photos entice you to buy the property?

Hire a Great Fundraiser


Recruit a Great FundraiserRecruit a Great Fundraiser

Would you ever consider buying one of these? Only if you had a ton of time on your hands for a serious fixer-upper. But you probably don’t have that kind of time in your nonprofit.

How can you make sure your organization is not the equivalent of one of these photos? Make sure you:

  • Are on-time for any appointment with a candidate.
  • Are friendly and personable. The candidate is looking to see if they want to work with you.
  • Make good use of the interview. If a candidate is currently employed they are very likely taking time off from their current job to meet with you. Be prepared and don’t waste their time or yours.

Tip #4: Be Honest

When my parents bought their house they realized after the close that part of the “floor” in the living room was just carpet over some very soft plywood. Jump too hard and you would be having a lovely chat with the hot water heater. In the basement.

A seasoned fundraiser is well aware that your organization will have problems. Don’t hide them. You don’t want your new hire to find out your organization’s quirks like this:

Tip #5: It’s Not All About The Money

Everyone wants to buy a house for the lowest price possible. But often, nonprofit people just want “enough” money so that it’s not the primary factor. As long as they make “enough,” they care more about intangibles and intrinsic motivators like meaning, relationships, autonomy, and mastery.

Sure, make sure the offering salary and benefits are competitive. But if your organization is about to engage in some new ground breaking work, make sure you point that out. Sell the candidate on what makes your nonprofit special.

On of our current clients is an arts organization in need of a top tier fundraiser. One of our challenges is that there are several similar searches by other organizations advertising higher salaries. We’re working to make sure this organization emphasizes the uniqueness and importance of its mission, and I guarantee that will draw in top candidates.

If all a fundraiser cared about was salary they would not be working at a nonprofit.

This is my list of suggestions for hiring fundraisers, but what are yours? What do you look for when considering a job change? Let me know in the comments below and let’s keep the conversation going. I promise many Executive Directors will thank you.

3 thoughts on “How to Hire a Great Fundraiser”

  1. I hired our development director a year ago. The number one thing I looked for was passion for our mission. Second was communication skill. In my view, donors can see through insincerity, so having a passion for our work will also be obvious. We have had one of our best years ever. Thank you to my Director.

  2. A development vice president once told us: “You can’t buy quality but you do have to pay for it.” True we could find other things to do that pay better than nonprofits. But, as was described, we are a part of a marketplace. A development professional who doesn’t wish to move should expect to be paid less. An organization trying to attract candidates from a regional or national market must plan on offering a competitive package. Development work is demanding and challenging. That’s part of the reason there is a shortage of talent. So, I will agree one can balance the scale a bit by offering superior working conditions that include realistic performance expectations, humane treatment by leadership, necessary support staff, a deep prospect pipeline (ok, maybe that’s too much to ask), and a compelling and well articulated case.

  3. Actually, I have been looking for a development position in the NY/NJ area for several months now, as have several friends who have been looking for over a year. We’re not sure why we can’t get hired but we do surmise it has something to do with having over 20 years of experience.

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