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5 Tips for Hiring a Strong Higher Education Fundraising Team

5 Tips for Hiring a Strong Higher Education Fundraising Team

Fundraising is a critical component of any organization’s success, and higher education is no exception. A strong fundraising team ensures that your college or university has the resources it needs to support its programs, facilities, and student population. 

However, building a strong fundraising team isn’t always an easy task, as finding candidates with the right skills, experience, and passions can take time away from other important initiatives. 

This guide will provide five key tips for streamlining and expediting the hiring process.  From defining key roles to assessing potential candidates, these tips will help you make informed decisions and build a team that successfully meets your fundraising goals.

1. Determine your organization’s hiring needs.

To determine your organization’s hiring needs, evaluate your current workload, assess the skill sets of your existing staff, and consider factors—such as turnover rates, retirements, or new initiatives—that may require additional staff. 

Then, identify the key roles needed to fill these gaps and run an effective fundraising campaign. Typical roles on a higher ed fundraising team include:

  • Director of Development: Oversees the entire fundraising operation and is responsible for developing and executing the fundraising strategy.
  • Major Gifts Officer: Identifies and cultivates relationships with donors who will donate the largest sums of money to the institution.
  • Annual Giving Officer: Strategizes how to increase donations throughout the year.
  • Grants Coordinator: Writes and submits grant proposals to various foundations, corporations, and government agencies.
  • Event Coordinator: Plans fundraising events, such as galas, auctions, and benefit concerts.
  • Prospect Researcher: Researches prospective donors and provides information about their interests and giving capacity to fundraising staff.
  • Stewardship Officer: Maintains relationships with donors and ensures that they receive appropriate recognition.

Depending on the scope and complexity of the work to be done, you may need to build teams beneath each of these positions. For instance, you may need multiple Event Coordinators to execute your annual benefit concert, and the Grants Coordinator may require a team of grant writers to meet multiple deadlines. 

2. Write clear job descriptions. 

Once these key roles are identified, develop detailed job descriptions to attract qualified candidates and provide clarity about your expectations. These job descriptions should include: 

  • Summary: Describe what the role entails at a general level. For instance, “Our university is looking for an experienced prospect researcher who specializes in using a variety of research methods to determine an alum’s willingness and capacity to give.” 
  • Responsibilities: Include a brief bulleted list of the specific duties that are to be performed, such as developing cultivation and solicitation strategies, providing insight into donor trends, and maintaining the donor database. 
  • Qualifications: Define the skills, education, and experience required for a candidate to successfully perform their day-to-day responsibilities. Keep in mind that requiring specific degrees or certifications without considering equivalent experience may exclude candidates who have gained skills through non-traditional routes.
  • Salary: List the expected salary range so both the hiring team and the candidate can avoid interviews that may not be a good match in terms of salary expectations.

As you create these job descriptions, remember to use gender-neutral language and replace exclusionary terms like “guru” with inclusive alternatives like “expert.” You should also include a brief statement about your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion to signal to candidates that you are committed to creating a positive working environment for everyone.

3. Use multiple search platforms.

Develop a list of search criteria, such as job title, location, education, and experience, based on the skills and qualifications required for each position. Then, use multiple platforms to identify potential candidates, including: 

  • Job boards: Post job openings on websites like Indeed and Glassdoor, so candidates can quickly submit their applications. 
  • Social media: Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook can be used to search for candidates and promote job openings to a large audience.
  • Employee referrals: Encourage current employees to refer individuals who they believe would be a good fit for the job and offer incentives such as referral bonuses.

To ensure that your team is representative of the communities you serve and can connect with a broad range of donors, seek out candidates from diverse backgrounds and experiences, including those from underrepresented groups. 

4. Conduct thorough research on potential candidates.

As you receive applications, thoroughly review each candidate by following these steps:

  • Screen resumes and cover letters. Carefully read through resumes and cover letters to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, skills, and experience. This preliminary screening will help narrow down your pool of candidates.
  • Conduct background checks. Verify the information provided by candidates by conducting a background check that includes criminal history, employment verification, and education verification.
  • Check references. Speak with professional references provided by the candidate to verify their experience and performance. 
  • Use social media. Conduct research on social media to learn more about a candidate’s personality, interests, and professional behavior.

Look for candidates with a track record of success in higher ed fundraising. This could be demonstrated by meeting or exceeding fundraising goals, securing major gifts, or implementing innovative fundraising strategies.

5. Reach out to qualified candidates in a timely manner.

Reaching out to qualified candidates in a timely manner shows that your organization values their time and interest in the position. If high-quality talent is left waiting for too long, they may lose interest or accept another job offer. A quick hiring process, on the other hand, allows you to start building a relationship with the candidate and strengthen your fundraising team sooner. 

To reach out to qualified candidates in a timely manner, you should do the following:

  • Set up an automatic response to acknowledge receipt of their application or resume.
  • Schedule interviews as soon as possible for candidates who meet the required skills and qualifications.
  • Have a team dedicated to conducting interviews and preparing questions about qualifications, experience, communication skills, and work ethic. 
  • Be transparent with the candidate about the timeline for the hiring process and what steps are involved.

Follow up with the candidate promptly after interviews to provide feedback and information about the next steps. Prepare training programs, mentorship opportunities, or onboarding sessions in advance to get chosen candidates ready for their new roles. 

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can effectively identify and hire top talent. Remember to prioritize timeliness, strategic planning, and inclusivity. Doing so will pay dividends for years to come, helping you build a fundraising team committed to supporting the students, faculty, and programs that make your college or university great.

Gabrielle PerhamFeatured Guest Expert – Gabrielle Perham, MBA, Director of Marketing

Gabrielle is the Director of Marketing & Sales Operations for Deep Sync and its family of brands: Compact Information Systems, HomeData, AccuData Integrated Marketing, AlumniFinder, ASL Marketing, CollegeBound Selection Service, and DeepSync Labs. She joined the organization in 2017 and possesses more than 15 years of experience in strategic marketing, branding, communications, and digital marketing. She earned a B.S. in Marketing and an M.B.A in Marketing Management from the University of Tampa.

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