The Dos and Don’ts of Hiring a Fundraiser

After decades of being embarrassed to tell people what we do, likened to used car salesmen, and facing statements like “surely you aren’t paid to do that,” fundraising is finally being recognized as a vocation. Thank goodness for that!

Over the past ten years, as both a partner in a consulting firm and a consultant to small and mid-size charities, I’ve done my fair share of hiring. And I’ve learned a few things. Somehow, we’ve lost sight of what it really takes to be an exceptional fundraiser. We focus on dollars raised, the number of events held, education received … and we’ve forgotten the most important things: Love of humanity, love of people, a caring outlook, and passion. We forgot about passion.

Love of humanity, love of people, a caring outlook, and passion are the qualities of an exceptional fundraiser   ← Tweet this

Personality, passion and culture fit are a big deal. Someone may have an impressive resume with a long list of jobs, but if they don’t fit with your culture, and aren’t passionate about your cause, I guarantee the relationship won’t last. What are the clues that will help you determine fit?

What to look for when hiring a fundraiser


  • Look for cover letters that speak to a connection to your cause.
  • Look for evidence that they’re taking this seriously, for example, they’ve done their research, they know what you do, and they know the task at hand.

When candidates show up for an interview pretend, for a moment, that you’re a potential donor being approached for an ask:

  • Are they confident?
  • Do they have a firm handshake?
  • Do they have presence?
  • Do they work to establish an immediate connection with you?

I’ve worked with many small non-profits over the years helping them hire a fundraiser that is a true fit. Too often I’ve seen small non-profits hire a fundraiser who looks okay on paper, but ends up setting them back by a year or two. They don’t know what questions to ask or the red flags to pay attention to.

Here’s how I separate the wheat from the chaff when hiring fundraisers.


I watch their eyes during the interview—Our eyes tell a million stories and when their eyebrows lift, and their eyes sparkle, I know I’ve found someone with a passion for the cause and a passion for connecting donors to the causes that are important to them.

I ask strategic questions—My favourite question is, “What’s the role of special events in a healthy fundraising program?” In my mind, this question is so important that you could ask only this question and find the right candidate for the job. What I’m looking for in an answer is that special events are great ways of building community, recognizing donors, and keeping volunteers engaged. A red flag is raised when a candidate sees them as the primary source of revenue in a fundraising program.

Special events in fundraising build community, recognize donors, and keep volunteers engaged!   ← Tweet this

I ask them what attracted them to the job ad—What I hope for is a connection to the cause. I find a way to have them tell me a story. A trick we use at Good Works is the candidate picks one folded piece of paper from a basket then speaks to the topic for one minute. The pieces of paper say things like, “love,” “family,” or “pet.”

Other ways to attract good candidates to your job opening:


Yes, a high salary will certainly attract candidates, but who among us can offer a six-figure salary to a seasoned fundraiser? Instead, think about other benefits you can offer:

  • Flexible work day; ability to work from home;
  • Great health benefits;
  • Time off during the day for volunteer work; or a
  • Healthy professional development budget.

These benefits make a huge difference to today’s candidates.

What are your thoughts on hiring fundraisers? How do you find the best candidates, and how do you avoid the ones who just don’t fit?


This article originally appeared in Hilborn Charity e-News

Leaving on a jet plane

I love to see the world, particularly places I’ve never been to before. Later today, I’m heading to Kerala, India, for two weeks of vacation. I will go in with my eyes wide open, a camera in my hand, and a mind ready for every new experience.

In the weeks leading up to this trip, I’ve been reading about the fascinating history of India, but also re-watching the video from the South Asian Philanthropy Conference held a few years ago as part of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Canada‘s Inclusive Giving Project, which I proudly co-chaired.

I so enjoy learning about traditions of giving around the world (and then incorporating those traditions into my work). Do you?


Modernizing the relationship between charities and government

Earlier this month, I was invited to be a witness for a Liberal Senate Open Caucus on modernizing the relationship between charities and government in Canada. It was a rich discussion, and both the witnesses and senators were in agreement that we need to work together to support and grow philanthropy in Canada.

You can watch the session in its entirety here: Liberal Senate Open Caucus on Youtube

Teeny tiny type

I was on a flight home to Ottawa last week. I’d had a long day of meetings, so decided to delve into the travel magazines that I’d brought along. Have I mentioned how much I love to travel? My secret indulgence is subscriptions to all of the best travel magazines.

I sat back, ordered a glass of wine, turned on my overhead light, and opened the first of the two magazines. I realized I had a problem as soon as I got to the table of contents. I couldn’t read it. I put it up closer to my face. Nope. I held it out at the end of my arms. Nope. I put my glasses on. Nope.

I couldn’t read it. Not just that page, but all the pages. So, I flipped through the photos feeling annoyed. I then moved on to the next magazine. Same problem.

I’m 49 years old, and I have pretty good eyesight for my age.

Think about it. I’m 49. I have pretty good eyesight. I can no longer read my travel magazines because of the teeny tiny type, or type put on dark backgrounds. So, I skip the text and flip through them, feeling annoyed.

What’s the average age of your donors?  I’m betting it’s older than 49. Are you making your fundraising and communications materials accessible to them? Are you using a minimum of a 13 pt font (14 pt is even better)? Are you using black text on a white background? Serif font (for offline communications)?

If not, you’re basically putting your materials directly into the recycling bins of your donors. They can’t read them, and they’re not going to put the effort into trying.

Don’t turn off donors with teeny tiny type!   ← Tweet this

Studies have been done around legibility and comprehension that are simply fascinating. I recommend you go order this book as soon as possible (and I see used copies are going for as little as $0.01). It’s a must read for non-profits.

Where’s Leah?

September 14, 2017
Fundraising Conference
Norges Innsamlingsråd (The Norwegian Fundraising Association)

Past Events:

February 8, 2017
Modernizing the Relationship Between Government and Charities
Liberal Senate Open Caucus

March 29 to 31, 2017
Half day masterclass on behavioural economics
CAGP National Conference

April 30 to May 2, 2017
“Authentic Leadership”
AFP International Conference
San Francisco

May 10 to 11, 2017
Fundraising Forum
Frivilligorganisationernas Insamlingsråd (Swedish Fundraising Council)

Canadian fundraising benchmarks

It’s a sad fact here in Canada that we don’t have much in the way of fundraising benchmarks. We’re often forced to turn to reports out of the United States to get some idea of how our direct marketing programs are performing.

Consulting firms like Good Works are able to compile their client data to poke away at possible trends, but unless we can put the data of hundreds or thousands of non-profits (broken down by sector) into our compilations the results aren’t going to be statistically valid.

But change is afoot!

Ten years ago, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute established the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP). The goal of the FEP is to help non-profits be more successful by providing them with (free) reports and tools to track and compare their fundraising performance. The project partners with many of fundraising software companies in order to have plenty of data for statistically valid results (the FEP pulls from the data of 8,000 non-profits).

Some of this data comes from Canadian non-profits. But even more exciting is the fact that the team behind the FEP is currently raising funds to build a Canadian version of their tools, based on Canadian data. If you’re interested in supporting them, let me know … I have an in!

But even before that happens, the FEP tools are ones you should check out. You can download a Fundraising Fitness Test and Growth in Giving template where you very simply input your data and have the templates spit out trends, comparisons, retention rates, growth in giving statistics … the list goes on and on. You can also check out the results of FEP’s 2016 sector survey, and read through all sorts of other reports. All for free!

What other benchmarking resources do you look to when measuring and comparing your key performance indicators? I’d love to hear about them.

(first published over on the Good Works blog)