By David A. Mersky
Face-to-face fundraising is in a class all its own. It is distinct from email, telemarketing, direct mail, and other high volume, “one to many” tactics in which nonprofits customarily engage.
Instead, the best of those who practice face-to-face fundraising focus on a portfolio of just 25-50 high net worth individuals, each of whom is a campaign unto him or herself.
Fundraisers of this type meet with donors and potential donors personally and repeatedly.
Accordingly, their ability to guide these people in making ever larger gifts in support of the work you do requires much more than the “standard” qualities one looks for when hiring — work ethic, intelligence, skills, technical expertise, etc.
Those things matter, of course. But when meeting with somebody face-to-face and asking them to make an audacious gift to your organization, it’s about much more than the basics. It requires an individual who can assume the role of counselor — listening, asking probing questions, and helping the donor share his or her aspirations and passions for your organization.
The stakes are high and these individuals can be challenging to find, identify, and retain. With that in mind, here are five traits to look for as you interview and endeavor to bring great face-to-face fundraisers into your organization…
#1. Emotional intelligence.
This person must be effective at perceiving and understanding other people — and they must have a good sense of themselves.
Can they detect the emotions of a donor when meeting? Can they sense any anxiety, compassion, or empathy that the prospect may be feeling? Can they mirror — even through their breathing — the person who sits across from them? Are they capable of listening carefully (using both eyes and ears) and carrying on a sincere, two-way conversation … or are they simply waiting for their turn to speak?
This is “permission-based” fundraising. You are looking for someone who can help others feel comfortable, while they themselves are perceived as trustworthy and confident, all the while focusing on what’s important and relevant.
#2. A love of people.
The most effective face-to-face fundraisers exude likeability and are naturally interested in other people. This trait can’t be taught or easily faked. It is hard coded into their DNA and an authentic aspect of who they are.
They tend to be joiners in activities outside of work, so make sure to ask about how they spend their free time. Do they coach youth baseball? Do they sing in a choir? Do they volunteer at a local food bank?
The specific activity is not what matters. You are looking for those who simply can’t get enough of others and who demonstrate that by their behavior.
Major, transformational gifts do not happen on the first, second, or even fifth visit. They take time and occur as a result of long and deep relationships; they are not transactional.
Your ideal face-to-face fundraiser is not a “closer” or salesperson. He or she is an individual who is willing to invest in these relationships over the long haul. They believe strongly in your organization and its cause and will commit the time necessary to helping others invest philanthropically.
#4. An exceptional memory.
Will this person remember the people they encounter, recalling the details of others’ lives and their wishes for your organization — weeks, months, and years after having met? And can they do all this at a moment’s notice, without having to check their notes or database?
Nothing strengthens a relationship more than the warm, honest recollection of a person with whom you have met. It demonstrates true caring for the other person and makes the fundraiser more like a friend and advisor than just the representative of a nonprofit organization.
You can get a good sense of a candidate’s memory by asking detailed questions about others in your own organization whom they may have already encountered.
#5. Impeccable integrity.
People who possess this trait do not need to pretend to care about the donors with whom they work. For them, integrity informs everything they do; it comes naturally.
They are focused on the development of sincere, genuine relationships that support and reflect the interests of the donor. In fact, when we work with face-to-face fundraisers whom we have placed in client organizations, we say, “That organization is paying you, but you really work for the donor. If you represent the needs and priorities of the donor with integrity, both the organization that employs you and the donor will benefit.”
In sum, hiring well is never an easy task. It is doubly true when you are seeking to engage someone who will represent you among your most important past, present, and, hopefully, future benefactors.
When evaluating face-to-face fundraisers, look for these five key traits. They are even more important than the standard qualities and experiences you expect in all your other staff.