As important as it is to have the right Development Director or Major Gifts Officer, when it comes to maintaining an effective fundraising department, it is absolutely essential to have the right Development Assistant.
When time and resources are tight, it is easy to fall into the trap of hiring quickly for pre-existing skills, looking for someone who seems to demonstrate an ability to be well organized and pay attention to detail, or even better, someone with real prior development experience. Unfortunately, the truth is that skills and experience can be very difficult to gauge in the hiring process, and they don’t always mean that you’ll find someone who is a true asset to your development department.
To be more effective, we suggest that you seek to hire for attitude and train for skills.
This is especially important if you are working with a limited personnel budget and cannot offer a competitive salary.
Hiring for attitude means:
Prioritizing passion for your cause over experience in the field. Someone who is genuinely excited about the work that you do is going to be a better face for your organization than someone who is just there to collect a paycheck. Even though they might not be actively making solicitations, they will be on the front lines in important and potentially memorable moments such as when the credit card on a donor’s pledge form doesn’t charge properly or at the check-in table for a cultivation event.
Looking for an interest in learning more, rather than a record of what they have already learned. A Development Assistant without a genuine desire to constantly improve is going to be a mediocre member of your team, regardless of their skill set. Just because someone has the ability to carry out certain tasks, doesn’t mean that they will do them to the best of their ability when they are working for you. A team member with a desire to grow professionally will not only respond to your feedback and training but will seek out other opportunities to learn more about the field. In the best-case scenario, that person will ultimately grow into a more senior position in your organization, rather than leaving the company behind and leaving you with another position to fill.
Thinking outside the box in terms of qualifications. There are many skilled and intelligent prospective employees who have not had a traditional educational path. Ruling out job candidates who lack a college degree, for example, may mean that you miss the opportunity to meet someone with a passion for your cause and a desire to learn more as they develop professionally.
Keeping this philosophy in mind, you can set your incoming Development Assistant up for success, all the while working to end the churn of Development staff members at your organization. That’s a win for everyone!