Finding the Right Who

Maybe it’s the season. Or perhaps it is the economy. Whatever, a number of my friends, acquaintances and clients are in the market for development staff.

”Can you recommend someone?” is the way the email generally goes. Well, yeah, but first I have to know what you are actually looking for. More to the point, you have to have what you are looking for. And no, it’s not just “someone to raise money.”

I’ve been reading Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, a book just about this topic. Like too many books of its kind, Who is a great magazine article masquerading as a book. That means there is a lot of filler. But there is also a lot of solid and good stuff. Good, I hasten to add, because we are in agreement.

The authors of Who note that one of the most critical points of failure in hiring come about because the managers are unclear about what is needed in a job. The other thing Smart and Street say that I really like is that instead of focusing on a bunch of activities—you know, “identify, cultivate and solicit donors and manage the donor database”—to hire the right person you must understand what is that you want the person to accomplish. Specifically. Now.

In order to be able to pinpoint that, the manager or members of the search committee will first have to have a clear vision of where the organization is and where it needs to go.

For example, many of my clients have been heavily dependent on grants for charitable revenue. We all know the direction that’s heading, so many of them really need to develop or expand an individual giving program. In order to hire the right person to do that, they will first have to define what that means in their context.

Organization A may actually have a fairly robust database of individuals who give annually very small gifts via direct mail. They will need someone who has the ability and skills to segment that data and move some of those donors up the giving pyramid.

Organization B, on the other hand, has no database and no natural constituency of individual prospects. This organization needs a rain-maker—someone who can get out there and create interest in the organization in order to build a prospect pool.

These two organizations have very different needs and the right person for one would probably be a poor hire for the other. This is why it is so important to know what you need.

But this isn’t just something to think about when you are hiring. Management jobs—and especially those involved with development—should be reviewed regularly. You must be asking: What do we need this person to accomplish now?

This question takes into consideration the initiatives you are currently working on as well as those you will be implementing shortly. It is informed by the external environment (things are different now than they were just six months ago—how have you adjusted for these changes?) and by how well your organization has managed its resources.

This doesn’t mean that you are constantly changing what you expect from staff. The things they will be doing probably won’t change. Fundraisers will continue to prospect, cultivate, solicit and steward. But the things they must get done may change.

If, for example, like so many other nonprofits, you are finding that your donors are giving less than they gave a year ago, the focus for your fundraiser may move to identifying more prospects who can give at this lower level. If your direct mail is dying on the vine, the person responsible for direct mail may also need to be looking at ways to augment this fundraising technique.

This also has serious, and to my mind terrific, impacts on evaluations and the setting up of metrics. In the past, both these activities were fairly generic if they existed at all. We should be creating a set of measurements based on what is needed over a specific time frame. Therefore these measurements may just change each year.

That makes a lot more sense to me than arbitrarily insisting that a fundraiser raise 5% more than last year (despite the economic environment), or make 112 prospect calls each year (regardless of how many prospects have already been identified) or—more likely—setting no requirements and then being disappointed because your development director didn’t meet your unstated expectations.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits on issues of productivity, resource development and board development. She can be reached at


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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