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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 8.2


Recruiting the Right People

Success in development relies on recruiting the right people into the right positions.

There is always risk associated with recruiting new staff, but you can minimize this risk with careful thought about the office structure (and how it will develop over time), staff roles, characteristics and expectations – and how your structure and staff will realistically meet your strategic goals.

Understanding Qualifications That Match Your Office Structure

As you determine your office structure and the specific activities that you want each staff position to accomplish, make sure you are thinking about the different qualifications and characteristics needed for the two major aspects of development work:

  • For external relations (e.g., fundraising, alumni relations, events organisation, business development and communication), qualified candidates should be good listeners and conversationalists. They need to be interested in other people and able to communicate engagingly on a wide range of topics and with a diverse range of people. They need an ability to manage multiple relationships at a high level and also a great memory for detail. They should be diplomatic and socially confident. They also need to have the courage to be able to make ‘the ask’ and the finesse to know when to make it.
  • For operational activities (e.g., data management, financial processing, prospect research and administration), qualified candidates are technically skilled, process driven and with excellent organisational skills that can cope with large volumes of information. At the same time, they need to have the sensitivity and insight to spot interesting trends and facts within the data they process and to share these with their externally focused colleagues.

These two aspects of development need to be able to work well together, under strong leadership, as a team.

Writing a Job Description and Person Specification

The more detailed and specific you can be in your job descriptions and person specifications the more likely you are to find the candidates you need. Think about what tasks you need a role to fulfill in order to meet your strategic goals, and break these tasks down into specific activities.

Person specifications should be split into the characteristics you find essential and those you find desirable. Again, the more specific you can be, the fewer unsuitable applications you will have to sift through.

Getting Help

Recruitment can be a daunting task. There are several places where you can find help both in formulating your recruitment strategy and in the recruitment process.

Your institution’s human resources office will be able to help you draft job descriptions, calculate appropriate levels of salary and organise the recruitment process. You can also get help from CASE, professional industry networks and specialist recruitment agencies.

If you are new to the sector, you will find it very helpful to talk with established directors of development in other institutions. They will be able to share their own experiences with you and may even agree to sit on interview panels.

Where and How yo Find Your New Staff

Development professionals come from a wide variety of backgrounds – higher education, charity sector, sales and marketing, PR and communications among others. You should look for individuals with the right skills even if they have little experience of your sector.

You can search for staff through the traditional routes of advertisement and recruitment agencies, but it is also worth working your own professional networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and relevant online discussion lists. Educational fundraising and advancement work is a global business, and it may be that you can attract strong candidates both from your own country and overseas.

Do not forget that you may have strong candidates on your own doorstep in other areas of your institution. You may be inheriting staff members who were working on development-related activities before there was an official office, or there may be staff members that are well-versed in communications or institutional operations who are looking for a new opportunity. The human resources office should be able to help you identify (or place) internal staff members into the structure and roles that you have defined.

Setting Up Your Staff for Success

To provide your staff with a strong basis from which they can succeed, ensure that honest and open discussions form part of the recruitment process. Be clear, not only about the skills desired and expectations of the role, but also about the status of development activities at the institution and resources available. Also, make sure there is an early, strong induction programme.

Action Items
  • Determine your office structure and the specific activities that you want each staff position to accomplish. Remember to plan for the short- and the long-term.
  • Work closely with human resources – seeking the advice of other institutions and professionals – to clearly define the skills and characteristics of the desired of each position, recruit qualified candidates and set up a strong selection process.
  • Be clear about your expectations and vision for the role when hiring.
  • Ensure the recruitment process is followed by a comprehensive induction period.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Reviewing the current situation
Office structures
Characteristics of a successful fundraiser
Working with human resources
Setting achievable targets


CASE provides in-depth human resources information on areas such as recruitment and hiring, orientation, diversity, workplace culture and sample job descriptions.

Doyle gives advice on hiring alumni.
Doyle gives examples of skills that are transferable to development positions.
Doyle talks about setting goals for the first yet, measuring performance and setting expectations when hiring.
Doyle talks about where an institution can go for recruitment assistance.
Leisl Elder talks about hiring major gifts staff and the qualities to look for in a fundraising professional.
Leisl Elder talks about the staff induction process and how to set reasonable expectations.