Recruiting to major donor fundraising roles

Struggling to recruit a major donor fundraiser or philanthropy lead? You’re not alone. It’s one of the most common challenges for charities large and small. Read on for 3 key tips that can help you fill that major donor role.

1) Look outside the sector (and within fundraising!)

I started my career at Unilever negotiating with Tesco and ASDA on the price of Magnum and Persil! I have rarely felt uncomfortable at the thought of, and then actually meeting, people in senior positions, or at having difficult conversations. Why?

I worked with Director and Vice-Presidents globally, and I received oodles of sales, negotiation and leadership training on the Unilever graduate scheme. I’ve been able to bring all that experience and training to my fundraising roles and major donor work and thank Tommy’s, the baby charity for valuing my experience and offering me my first fundraising role. One of the most talented major donor fundraisers I’ve coached was in her first fundraising role – she’d worked in account management with wealthy clients for two decades before she moved to the charity sector – she was raising some brilliant major gifts for her charity.

Yet it can feel uncomfortable not looking for someone who’s done a major donor role before. Paul Nott, recruitment and retention specialist, and I discussed this on a Summit Power Hour

“If the recruiting manager doesn’t have major donor experience they want to try and play it safe by getting someone into the role that knows everything that they don’t about major donor fundraising.”

Paul Nott

I get it.

However, there are not enough major donor fundraisers in the sector for the amount of roles being recruited to. “Knowledge” can be learnt; you can provide a new fundraiser with coaching or put them on a course. (I do both through Summit Fundraising!)  The underlying skills that make someone successful in major donor fundraising can be more difficult to teach. Recruit on these and you open your pool hugely.

2) Keep it simple – revise that job spec and your process

Read your advert and JD through and think about how you can appeal to the widest pool of potential candidates.

  • Is it clear and free of jargon like “cultivating” and “stewardship”? So that if someone was applying outside of fundraising they’d be able to spot  and evidence their transferable skills?
  • Are there unnecessary requirements in there like a degree? Can you half the requirements, then half it again?
  • How can you make the application process as simple as possible; without having to do a separate application form for example?
  • How can you make a candidates’ application experience as strong as your supporters’ experience of your charity? Are you offering the chance for someone to have an informal chat with you before they apply? Are you providing questions for interview in advance? Are you doing one stage not two stage formal interview so you don’t lose a great candidate making them wait?

Here’s recruitment and retention specialist Paul Nott and I discussing the often advertised requirement of “having asked for 6 or 7 figure gifts” in a Summit Power Hour and why it’s vital we delete requirements like this – you can see I’m passionate about this!

Recently I helped a regional charity recruit for a major donor fundraising role. We made the underlying skills that they needed clear in the job spec and highlighted that candidates might have gained these skills outside of major donor fundraising.

The CEO had informal chats with three candidates who all went on to a formal interview. Two had held major donor roles and one had been leading a challenge events team at a national charity.

Who did we offer it to? The fundraiser who hadn’t formally done a major donor role. She excelled demonstrating all the skills at interview, and I’m really excited for what she’ll achieve in her new role (and at the opportunity of coaching her).

3) What are you offering beyond salary?

Salary is important but it’s not the be all and end all. Adam at Charisma Recruitment shared a story at networking event of a major donor fundraiser who had two job offers, and accepted the lower salary because of the home-working and flexibility offered. (Thanks to Helen Denny and Lucy Gower for putting the event on.)

Achieving my first Head of Relationship Fundraising role, I thought I could persuade the hiring manager to consider me working 4 days per week.  Their response? They’d consider it but only after I’d worked full-time for 6 months. What a 6 months it was with the exhaustion unique to having a one year old!  I eventually got my 4 days, but at what cost? A less tired and wiser Louise would have turned them down and they’d have lost out.

Good luck with your recruitment!

And if you have a new or existing team member who would benefit from coaching or training to boost their knowledge and confidence get in touch.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

This was posted on 10 November 2022.


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