5 Key Questions to Ask Before Recruiting a New Fundraising Leader

by Kieran McTague

Senior Vice President

Posted January 15, 2024

Recruiting a new fundraising leader is an important task that can change the direction and strength of your fundraising program. Before embarking on such a critical search, it is useful to assess your current strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and needs. Here, we outline four questions to ask yourself before hiring a fundraising leader – and the implications of the answers to each.

1. What are the current strengths and weaknesses of our fundraising program and how do they align with realistic aspirations for the near future?

  • By identifying the fundraising functions (e.g. annual fund, institutional giving, major gifts, special events, etc.) that require greater investment, you will be able to hone your search and prioritize candidates who can help close the gap. It’s also useful when thinking about any additional capacity you may need to add over time to take your program to the next level.
  • This kind of reflection will allow you to have more candid conversations with candidates. They will appreciate the clarity and transparency you provide regarding your organization’s current program.

2. Is there potential or need to educate and support board members in their philanthropic roles?

  • In my experience, nearly every senior development candidate is interested in knowing about the board’s role in fundraising. To align expectations, be prepared to share with candidates whether a) the board actively fundraises and should continue to do so, b) the board is not highly engaged in fundraising currently but needs to be moving forward, or c) does not play a primary role in fundraising and is not expected to.
  • Depending on your answer, you might need a candidate who’s adept at building relationships and motivating the board – or a candidate who understands and accepts that the board will not be a major contributor.
  • In addition, if your new fundraising leader will be expected to partner closely with the board, you might consider having candidates meet with a couple of key members near the end of the search process.

3. Is fundraising a strong partnership between the CEO and head of fundraising or it is strictly the head of fundraising’s role?

  • If there is a need for collaboration, then ensure your CEO plays an active role in the search. This includes having them outline the characteristics and skills they are seeking in a partner and referring to this information when assessing candidates. You will want to seek candidates who have previously had and would welcome a strong partnership with a CEO (be sure to ask candidates to cite specific examples of success).
  • If fundraising is solely in your fundraising leader’s hands, make sure to communicate this to candidates. They need to understand and embrace the fact that, in many ways, they will be the face of fundraising for the organization – and therefore, the primary liaison with both the board and major donors.

4. Are you looking for a jack-of-all-trades with strong management skills or a fundraising leader who will focus on growing a few specific fundraising areas?

  • It may be the case that you need a leader who is adept at managing a small team and is involved in all facets of the development program from annual giving to institutional grants, special events, and more. Or it may be the case that a specific aspect of your program has historically underperformed, and you need a leader who can dedicate the vast majority of their time to building it up (whether it be major gifts, institutional partnerships, board/stakeholder engagement, etc.) – and thus, will need to be much more external with more limited internal responsibilities.
  • Whatever the case may be, considering this ahead of time will help guide your search process and candidate assessment, and lead to more honest and rewarding conversations with candidates.

5. Which skillsets are ‘must-have’s’ and which are ‘nice-to-have’s’? In other words, how can you broaden the candidate profile?

  • As the market for fundraising leaders is highly competitive, it can be challenging to find and recruit candidates if your organization adheres too closely to an exact list of ideal qualifications. Before launching a search, consider which skillsets and experiences are non-negotiable, which skillsets would be nice but aren’t required, and which skillsets could come from transferable experience.
    • For example, an advanced degree may not be crucial to the role or a candidate with experience in sales may transition well to a fundraising role with extra training.
  • Broadening qualifications in this manner can help diversify your candidate pool and ensure that you don’t miss out on the best candidates when you’re ready to launch.

The bottom line is that having a reflective understanding of the realities of your development program can only lead to a better hire.

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If you are preparing to launch a search for a new fundraising leader, we are here to help. Learn more about our nonprofit executive search services and contact us today.

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