It takes more than a sunny window.
"Do you know someone who can come in here and get this fundraising turned around?"
"How much would we have to pay to get a 'good' development person?
"What would it take to get you to take this job?
Same questions. All.The.Time.
Seems as if most of the organizations I'm working with right now are either searching or getting ready to search for development staff. We're working on job descriptions and having conversations, good conversations, about what makes a position attractive for a development professional.
They're stretching to offer good salaries and benefits, sorting out the implications of offering a truly flexible schedule, and rearranging to find appropriate office space. Adding sections to the job description about great downtown locations with restaurants within walking distance, the winsomeness of the organization, the importance of the cause and the opportunities for community engagement -- all that makes sense to me. That job posting is, after all, an advertisement for the position and we want a whole raft of good candidates to apply.
But, having had a bit of experience as a development position candidate as well as a consultant for searches, I know potential hires should be looking for other important markers, and organizations should be prepared to discuss these keys as part of the search. We all want the same thing -- a hire that is good for everyone, a hire that helps the organization and all the people involved to grow and thrive and strengthen all its relationships. And a hire that stays.
While a stellar fundraising prospect may care a great deal about where the office is located (south-facing, windowed office in a great downtown spot beats moldy basement with tiny creatures next to a 7-11any day, take it from me), what matters more to solid candidates is knowing whether or not they can be successful at the job. Because, well, who doesn't want to be successful?, and success generally leads to advancement and rewards. And while part of the answer to the question of success does lie in their own experience, ethics and character, a great part of it lies with the condition of the organization.
In the new book, The War for Fundraising Talent and How Small Shops Can Win, author Jason Lewis points out three important characteristics of organizations that make it possible for fundraising stars to shine. I couldn't say it any better than he does: "Even before an initial interview, a candidate can easily investigate whether a prospective employer can provide the elements that typically drive highly effective fundraising: a solid constituency, infrastructure, and track record."
When we think about attracting great talent to our organizations (or as a candidate, knowing if we can be successful), these are important elements to consider. Even paying a stretch amount to a fundraising rock star won't yield the results we want if our organization doesn't have a strong donor base, or systems that support development efforts, or any kind of track record in successfully advancing donors. And savvy candidates won't come to work for us. At the very least, we need to be honest about (and cognizant of) weaknesses we may have in those areas and our willingness to invest resources and time to improve.
If we're trying to hire a major gifts officer but we've neglected to build any sort of pipeline of donors (don't roll your eyes - it happens all the time) and all we've been doing is direct mail for the last ten years because we're all too hesitant to actually go out and talk to people (or don't have a good process for setting meetings, or have too many donors in our portfolio to possibly develop personal relationships, etc, etc) a seasoned professional will know they are going to struggle to produce the kind of results everyone's expecting. We have to be real about where we are and what we can expect, even from a rock star.
This just means that we can't keep assuming all our organizational problems (the ones we think can be eliminated by having more money) can be solved by hiring the right development person. Those structural, systemic problems can't be cured by one individual and really smart development professionals, who want to continue to be successful, will steer clear. Something to think about if you're recruiting great individuals, only to have them turn you down at the offer or, even worse, leave fairly quickly after they get a realistic look at your donor base and infrastructure.
If we can identify where our organizational fundraising weaknesses are and hire with eyes wide open -- and allow our great hires to enter the organization the same way -- we can do reparative work while we build new strength. But everyone has to be on the same page -- and expectations have to be fair.
"No, I don't just 'know' of someone who can come in and instantly created fundraising Nirvana, but let's have a real discussion about the challenges here and come up with a good plan."
Sidenote: I could probably write a blog post a day for the whole summer about the good things in Jason Lewis' book, The War for Fundraising Talent. If you're a development type, an executive director, or a nonprofit board member wondering why your organization can't seem to find the key to sustaining a strong, productive fundraising staff/program, read this gem. It's the book I wish I'd written, but I didn't, so I'm so happy Jason did. If I were still an ED, I'd buy a copy for every single member of the board. And I'd "book club" it with staff. Worth it.