Institute for Charitable Giving

It’s Not the Years That Count

We were doing a search for a client recently. I reviewed the credentials of a candidate who had been in the field for 17 years.

When I did some extensive checking, I find that this person has indeed been in the field for 17 years. But then I talked with references. I find that he has had 17 times the first year’s experience. He hasn’t developed, hasn’t grown, and shows no promise. He rusted in the first year.

I am convinced that experience is important. But it is most certainly not the number of years that count. It’s the quality of the experience.

There’s something more important than years of experience. What makes a great fundraiser is the magnificent combination of characteristics and skills that a person brings to the experience that makes good fundraisers into great ones.

So, what qualities do you look for? I make the case in my book that a person’s experience is to be considered, but that shouldn’t be the prime criterion.

I look for someone who is head over heels passionate about the organization and its mission. I want it to be a love affair.

I want someone who is growing and developing. That’s why experience is not important to me. If you’re green, you’re growing. Camus wrote: “Only you can make yourself what you want to be.”

In the interview process, I like someone who asks questions and probes. This is the sign of an excellent listener. And listening is one of the most important skills of a successful fundraiser.

Having a powerful relationship with donors, prospects, and staff is of primary importance. You seek a person who can quickly build positive relationships. The good news is that typically, you can determine this on even the first interview when you are doing your selection. You hope for someone who is endlessly inspirational.

And finally, I like someone who wants to win. “Coming in second sucks,” said one candidate to me. You may feel this is not the proper attitude we should bring to our field, but I must admit I rather liked the feeling that this person wanted to win.

The truth is fundraising, as they say, isn’t rocket science. If a person brings the right attributes, skills, and personality traits, the rest can be taught.


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