To Hire or to Plan? Which Comes First?

Organizations often face a dilemma about fundraising: which should we do first – hire development staff or create a fund development plan? We believe that creating a development plan should come before hiring development staff. The high demand for experienced fund development professionals requires you to be strategic in recruiting and retaining staff. Competition for the philanthropic dollar requires you to be proactive in developing and implementing fundraising strategies. A well-prepared fund development plan supports both strategic recruitment and proactive fundraising.

Let’s talk about recruitment first. Successful recruitment within a competitive market requires that you define your expectations regarding the position you are hiring for. Larger institutions typically have well-defined job descriptions based on industry standards, but recruiting based on these doesn’t necessarily ensure you will make the right hire. You need to know what your organization seeks to accomplish and what fund development skills will be required. Your fund development plan should contain this information as well as roles and responsibilities to use when creating job descriptions, recruiting, interviewing and hiring.

When recruiting development staff you want to interview professionals with the skills and experience required to implement your plan. Recruiting and hiring using your fund development plan allows you – or the recruiter you are using – to create a more qualified applicant pool because you have explicitly defined the skill set and experience you need. Doing so also allows you to reduce the learning curve of a new hire as the plan provides a roadmap that clearly communicates the organization’s fundraising goals, methods, timelines, and processes for engaging volunteers.

Recruiting development staff with the expectation that they will create and implement a development plan limits the pool of qualified applicants because not every fundraiser knows how to create a fund development plan. In fact, if you hire someone with the skills to create a strong plan you may not be hiring someone with the skills required to implement the plan. Most importantly asking a new hire to create a plan may mean that the plan is based on the skill set of your hire instead of the method of fundraising that is best for your organization.

Fund development plans – like strategic plans – are typically developed by consultants who specialize in planning. These plans are rooted in market research – called assessment and feasibility studies – and are specifically designed to take advantage of an institution’s strengths and help overcome challenges that impede giving. The skills and experience required to create a detailed fund development plan are different from those required to implement specific aspects of the plan. Hiring an individual with a strong background in major gifts or special events should increase giving from those areas. Such individuals however do not necessarily have the skill set to create a comprehensive fund development plan that guides all aspects of an organization’s fund development and fundraising.

That’s why we recommend creating a fund development plan before recruiting new or additional staff.

Searching for the right hire

When you need to increase your fundraising you may be tempted to hire new or additional personnel as quickly as possible. If your organization is working from a fundraising plan you have a tool to help you evaluate what type of hire you will need to make to achieve your goals. If you are not yet working from a fundraising plan, we always recommend creating a fundraising plan before you make another hire. Our experience has shown that organizations are best served when recruitment and hiring decisions are based on a strategic fund development plan. It is hard to evaluate whether or not an individual can do the job if you don’t know exactly what it is that you want to accomplish! A fund development plan clarifies your goals to you and your potential hire, thereby reducing possible misunderstandings and mistakes in the hiring process.

But creating a fund development plan requires a specific skill set. Because of this many organizations contract with consultants to create a customized plan that employs fundraising methods that best fit the culture, mission, region and relationships of your organization. Once created your plan should serve as a multi-year roadmap that guides the work of board members, staff, and volunteers. It should include detailed roles and responsibilities for all individuals engaged in fundraising. This helps ensure that all parties know what is required of them. Your plan should also include criteria for evaluating staff so that expectations about their time and use of resources are clear.

Using your fund development plan in the hiring process also gives candidates an opportunity to determine whether or not they are the right person for a position. As you are looking to hire staff, development professionals out there are doing their own search for a good fit with an organization. A development professional needs to know that the organization that she or he is joining has the ability and commitment to use their skills and experience. They also need to know that you have allocated the resources required to implement your plan.

Once hired a professional can quickly become productive because the plan serves as a roadmap to guide fundraising activities. She knows what needs to be accomplished and can get to work using her skills and experience. Because a well-crafted fund development plan contains roles, responsibilities and timelines the work of staff can be evaluated throughout the year. You don’t have to wait until the end of the year to measure success based solely on financial results. Adjustments can be made mid-course if needed.

But a development plan it should not stifle a professional’s creativity. Staff should add their input and make adjustments based on experience and insight – so long as they don’t compromise the plan’s integrity. Remember – you have made an investment in the plan and it should not be reinvented with each new hire.

These are a few reasons why we recommend creating a fund development plan before recruiting new or additional staff. For a free copy of the Saad & Shaw Fund Development Plan Checklist call (901) 522-8727 or email

© Copyright Mel and Pearl Shaw. Working together as Saad & Shaw we help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. We are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit us at or call (901) 522-8727.

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2 comments on “To Hire or to Plan? Which Comes First?”

  1. Pingback: Five Questions to Ask When Hiring a Nonprofit Fundraising Professional | FUNdraising Good Times

  2. Pingback: Five Thought Provoking Questions to Ask a Potential New Hire | FUNdraising Good Times

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