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9 Attributes to Look for When Hiring a Fundraiser

By Chris Scroggin, Petrus Consultant

Herb Brooks was the 1980 Olympic Ice Hockey coach that, against all odds, beat the Russian National team and then went on to win the gold medal. 


It really was a “David vs. Goliath” tale that no one expected. 


Herb had taken a bunch of college amateurs and turned them into a well-oiled, disciplined, gutsy ice hockey team. With hard work and, yes, a “miracle,” they were able to not only skate a full match against the world champion Russian team, but actually beat them. 


  • Early on in the team drafting, Coach Brooks had decided on the 21 players he wanted to work with. 
  • This shocked the Olympic committee, who normally took weeks, and many meetings, before narrowing down the final roster. 
  • Plus, Brooks had a lack of “championship” players on his roster. 


Brooks simply stated, “I don’t want championship players. I know the kind of player I want and need to win. I have coached or played against each of the players I have selected.” 


In other words, Herb knew exactly what he was looking for in the type of player he needed to win the gold medal, and especially to beat the Russian team. 

  • He had seen how NHL Championship players had repeatedly lost to the Russians. 
  • A dream team wasn’t what was needed, in his mind. He needed the raw talent. 


He wanted the dedication of players who loved the game and who wanted nothing more than to be on the ice playing the game they loved. 


Herb was looking for players who were hardworking, gritty, team-focused, persevering in the face of hardships and odds. They would have to play as one unit in order to stand a chance against the superpower of hockey.


They weren’t all the best players, they were the right players. 


The Right People, Not the Best Resumes

Catholic nonprofits should look to build their teams in the same way Coach Brooks did.  We usually look to hire someone with a degree, with years of experience and proven results.


While all of this is very good, it could result in a candidate your nonprofit cannot afford. If your organization is just starting out, you may not have the resources to hire a “championship” fundraiser. Like Coach Brooks, you need to have the “right” kind of candidate to ensure that your development office will be successful for years to come. 


Some of the qualities of an effective fundraiser can be taught. Other qualities the “right” candidate will have innately. These can be honed as the development officer becomes more seasoned through the work of advancement. 


At the end of the day, dollars need to be raised. It is essential for you to hire the right candidate for your non-profit. 


Characteristics of the “Right” Candidate

The right candidate has nine core characteristics. They include:


  1. Personable: Development is in the business of relationships. These relationships must be managed and sustained over time in order to be successful. Being personable doesn’t mean that this individual is an extrovert. There are many types of people ho make great development officers. Not all are extroverted. 
  2. Organized: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a situation at a non-profit where things were disorganized. Donor information was stored in multiple locations with duplicates, and other issues. The only good option was a total reset. A good development officer is coming into contact with a lot of people and a lot of great information. It is imperative that your organization has a strategy for each donor and this requires recording and organizing information in a way that can be understood and easily accessed by other people on the team. 
  3. Professional and Punctual: The Director of Development is a face of the organization. He or she will be meeting with a wide variety of people, managing the leadership council, and representing the mission. It is essential that they be professional and punctual. The Development Director is the primary contact with donors. Donors are being asked to make a long-term commitment to the organization. You need to feel confident that the person hired can represent your mission, speak well to it, and instill confidence in donors. 
  4. Comfortable and confident in discussing money and making asks. The main responsibility of the development director and their staff is to ask for money. Asks vary. Sometimes they are natural and easy to accomplish. Other times it will take persistence on the part of the fundraiser to get in front of a prospect to make a bold ask. Most of us have had to overcome a bit of fear of rejection, but knowing that this is part of the work can make it easier. 
  5. Passionate for the cause. The candidate must believe in what they will be asking others to invest their time and money into. They may have to accept sacrifices to further the mission, such as time away from family or reduced pay. They believe their work will make a true difference in people’s lives. 
  6. Patient. They knew that relationships take time. They don’t happen overnight. These people must be in it for the long game. They must approach every donor relationship with a desire to nurture a strong, lasting bond. 
  7. Empathetic. Catholic fundraisers, and all development professionals, must genuinely care for their donors. They can’t be in it for the transactional aspect of getting the big bucks and moving on. There cannot be any pressuring or guilting a donor into making a gift they are not ready to make. When a donor truly feels appreciated and cared for by your development team, their trust in your organization will grow. They will become ambassadors of your mission to others. 
  8. Bold and direct. Building strong relationships is just part of raising money. A great fundraiser knows that they have to keep the cause at the front and make bold asks at times. 
  9. Creative Communicator. It isn’t easy to get in front of donors, especially the prospects that can give at the major gift capacity. I have seen many nonprofit leaders that struggle to communicate the need, the vision and mission, even of their own organizations. The great fundraisers I have known were creative in finding ways to communicate the message and get it out to more people, expanding the nonprofit’s reach. Difficulties didn’t deter them! 

Look for these characteristics and attributes in your development candidate and ensure that your organization will thrive and accomplish the mission God has given you!


What are the right interview questions to ask when interviewing for new development staff?

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