This article “Breaking the mould when it comes to finding the right person for the job” first appeared in Pro Bono Australia.

As an organisation that focuses on the capacity building of for-purpose organisations to apply strategic thinking to their service delivery and fundraising programs, we are finding our conversations with organisational leaders steering towards searching for the right people. 

Increasingly, we are hearing the challenges they are facing in finding, hiring, and retaining the right person for the job, particularly when a position in their major gifts and/or fundraising team suddenly becomes vacant.

It seems that COVID-19 has not just presented challenges in terms of access to funding resources, but access to the right people, too.

Rachael McLennan is the CEO and co-founder of People for Purpose, a partner organisation of Strategic Grants that connects, educates, and supports for-purpose individuals and organisations.

She says during the first lockdown period in 2020 they noted a lot of buoyancy within the market – more people looking for opportunities or prepared to move to something new.

“Our experience of the market during the second – and subsequent – lockdowns is that people are more reluctant to move from where they are,” McLennan says.

Working with hundreds of NFPs across the sector, Strategic Grants is well used to identifying the gaps charities have within their internal structure, particularly as it relates to a robust fundraising strategy, and providing the right solutions to fill those gaps. 

With staff located across Australia and New Zealand, we understand the importance of creating an environment where employees feel valued and part of the team – regardless of whether you have regular face-to-face interaction, or, in our case, very little.

So, what should organisations look for when it comes to finding the right person for the job?

Do not get stuck looking for someone with not-for-profit experience. This sounds bold when searching for this sector – I know. 

Instead, focus on transferable skills that can be applied to the role you are filling and then provide professional development and training opportunities to upskill and get them up to speed with sector knowledge (if you find someone with these skills and a background in the sector, you have struck gold!).

My tops skills to look for:

  1. Exceptional communication skills – written and oral. When it comes to fundraising and grants especially, having an internal resource that can listen, capture key messages, and present those in both proposals and when speaking to internal and external stakeholders, is essential. You need someone who can build and nurture relationships with program leaders and funders. This combination is a winner. 
  2. Strategic thinking. A good fundraiser knows who in the organisation should have the conversation with the right donor for the right project at the right time, and makes it happen.
  3. Time management and organisational skills. Fundraising activities are generally deadline driven, whether it is submitting grant applications, getting appeals out or running events. We look for people with the ability to manage multiple tasks, work well under pressure and know when to ask for additional support from the team. 

To add to this, McLennan says you must ensure you develop – and follow – a robust process. 

“Most leaders who are looking to add to their team say, ‘we need the right person’ and right means more than just skills and experience,” McLennan says.

“It means their genuine commitment to your purpose and alignment to your values – how they will ‘fit’ into your organisation. But they also say we need them yesterday, so they fail to run a proper process.

“Take the time to ask the right questions, conduct a behavioural test, interview –  see if you actually like the person! Following a robust process will yield an outstanding result.

“Finally, be patient and don’t settle for second best.”

I recommend checking out People for Purpose’s resource “Looking for your next leader,” developed during lockdown.

How to keep the right person once you have found them

While working from home is the norm these days, the Strategic Grants team is 100 per cent remote. What used to be reliable, regularly scheduled face-to-face time at conferences and team planning days, are not an option at the moment.

It is important now, more than ever, to keep your team engaged and feeling valued, regardless of whether the office is working remotely as a temporary measure or on a permanent basis.

My top tips:

  • Hold structured, weekly team meetings. Ours have agendas and are limited to 60-90 minutes. We have a busy schedule and none of us like too many meetings! 
  • Encourage team members to collaborate on projects online, over video calls.  
  • Provide regular professional development and training opportunities.
  • Make sure your team has a rewarding experience and feels part of a strong and supportive internal culture.
  • Provide a mentally, physically, and emotionally safe working environment.
  • Encourage your team to regularly take time off – whether it is for a staycation or just some time away from screens.
  • Support team members when they want to move on elsewhere to advance their career.

“Remember, we are all human beings with different motivators and pressures on us, especially at this time,” McLennan says. 

“Take the time to get to know your new hire personally and commit to continuously learning more about them as you work together. Commit to learning how to support them in a way that is individual to them.”

If you need help with your organisation’s capacity building when it comes to strategic thinking, fundraising, and grants, Strategic Grants can help. We have a team of expert grants strategists with immense knowledge of the NFP sector who can help you plan and execute your grant-seeking strategy. Get in touch or visit our website to find out more.