Should We Hire to Plan or Plan to Hire?


Part One of Two-Part Series

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. 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. Read Part Two for more information.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help nonprofit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of “How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors.” Visit them at or call 522-8727.