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Chapter Leadership Brief 3.25.19

Chapter Leadership Brief 3.25.19

By Gary Laermer, AFP-NYC President

Qualities vs. Experience

I recently attended a CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) conference and there was no shortage of development department leaders saying they are spending more and more of their time in interviewing and holding searches for open positions, in particular front line fundraisers.  These conversations gave me pause to think about how many hours I spent in hiring new staff. I thought about how many times I was right-on in my choices and when I realized I didn’t make the best choice. 

Over my career I have interviewed maybe a few hundred candidates for positions.  My experiences have afforded me the opportunity to consider the qualities that help make a great fundraiser and the balance of those qualities with actual experience.  When interviewing a candidate, one of the most important qualities that I consider is resilience -- can the candidate keep finding a way forward, when prospects won’t meet with you or your donors have just said no?  I also try to look for signs of a strong team player with the capacity to manage 360 degrees (horizontally and vertically) within our organization.  Candidates should demonstrate the ability to get along with peers and managers.  Recently I have come to appreciate candidates that can demonstrate a sense of cultural awareness; an ability to connect with a very diverse group of donors and potential donors with sincerity and honesty. Lastly, as there is an ever-increasing dependence on technology in our work, strong candidates show a keen understanding of how to employ its use in carrying out their responsibilities. 

I try to balance identifying these qualities in a candidate with exactly how much experience is enough to succeed.  I still see most job postings with a criteria of either 5-7, 7-10 or more than 10-years of experience required. In recent years, however, I have had a harder time in identifying those who have had 10 years of experience from those who just have 1-year of experience 10-times.  I find that I am starting to fall into the camp of demonstrated qualities over experience. 

With so many great organizations searching for high quality frontline fundraisers, I think those who can come to the table and demonstrate their ability to show strong skills in cultural awareness, highly effective team-work, grit and the ability to adapt to new technology will win the day and deliver great results for their organization.  Given the high turnover rates in frontline fundraisers, I think it’s going to get more difficult in securing fundraisers who have developed their skills based on years of experience. As we hire new fundraisers, we have to be willing to take a chance on candidates new to the field, and look more closely at the qualities our candidate’s possess.

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