Monday, May 25, 2009

When Hiring Advancement Staff (Part III)

In my last two posts, I stressed the paramount importance of looking for evidence of character and curiosity when hiring advancement staff and suggested how we might search out those traits in job candidates. If candidates meet that threshold test, I would also ask myself:

When meeting a prospect for the first time, what would this candidate say about the institution in their manner and conduct? Would their level of professionalism be perceived as commensurate with the quality and standards of the institution?

Can this candidate easily express the vision, values and higher purposes of this institution? Are those values and purposes a natural extension of his or her personality? Would they find it easy to "walk the talk"?

If, in my mind's eye, I put this candidate in front of one of our best but most demanding donors, how does she or he hold up? Does she wilt or find a way to cleverly persist in making the case? Would this candidate take the tough donor's challenges or criticism personally?

Can this candidate hold his or her own in a range of conversations with a wide variety of people? Can he do that as an equal or does he tend to fawn over or humor others?

Does this candidate know how to differentiate a weak case from a strong one? If handed a weak case for support, would he or she know how to make it better?

Is this candidate an orchestrator of activity, one who know how to use the tools of the office and the talents within the organization to make the strongest possible impact on a prospective donor or do they have a tendency to act like a lone wolf ("I can do this by myself." "I just need everyone to get out of my way." "These are my prospects and everyone needs to keep their hands off them." "I'm the only one who can get to this person.") Will they integrate prospects into the live of our community or isolate them from it?

Does this candidate know how to do advancement work within the organization as well as without? Can they develop relationships within? Establish communications with key co-workers? Cultivate the support of others in our organization? Ask for others' help and support without worrying if it makes them appear less-than-competent?

Many of us in advancement are fond of describing it as a relationship-building endeavor. If so, it is wise to look for professionals who know that the best of relationships are built from mutual interest, personal parity and complementary skills. The most accomplished of practitioners will naturally seek out others, within and without, to create more competent and caring communities of common cause. They will draw lessons from their most successful personal relationships -- and those may take all variety of forms -- and apply them to their professional associations.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

When Hiring Advancement Staff (Part II)

In my last post, I spoke to importance of looking for character and curiosity when hiring advancement staff. Many of you might agree but may wonder how to find those traits and to make sure they are real. To get at the issue of character, I propose the following questions that can be asked of the job candidate or, with a slight rephrasing, of that candidate's references.

1. Under what circumstances would you say no to a gift or cease negotiations with a willing donor? Have you have encountered such a situation? What factors did you consider in making your decision? What did you tell the donor?

2. If you had to write a code of ethics for an advancement operation, what would you consider the 3 to 5 most important tenets?

3. What are the most important obligations a development officer has to the institution that he or she represents? To the prospect? To the donor? To their peers? To their boss? To their subordinates? To their own consciences?

4. Can you name a time when you were willing to stand alone or do something unpopular because it was a matter of conscience? How did you express your point of view? How did others react?

5. Who or what has shaped your moral and ethical development? How do you call on those sources in times of struggle?

Please keep in mind that we are not looking answers that are right or wrong according to only our world view or faith; we are looking for evidence of depth of thought and the ability to carefully consider, and reflect thoroughly, on the consequences of ones actions.

To discover a candidate's level of curiosity, I suggest the following questions:

1. What mysteries of life would you most like the answer to?

2. Name six people living or dead that you would most like to meet? What would you ask them? What would you most like to learn about them?

3. What would you most like to know about the institution that you are applying to? About this division or office? About me?

4. If you were asked to write an article about the art of the interview, describe your personal style and your favorite techniques for drawing out prospects? Describe how you have helped prospects articulate and understand their animating passions?

5. What countries would you most like to see? What books would you most like to read? What skills would you most like to develop? What adventures seem most appealing to you?

Once again, you are not looking for right or wrong answers; you're looking for indications of a fertile, open mind with a driving desire to learn. The asking of these questions will do more than provide you with insight into the person you are considering bringing on to your team; it will tell the job candidate what you value. And the more we make it clear that we are seeking those with values, the richer and more relevant our applicant pools will become.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

When Hiring Advancement Staff

What should you look for when hiring advancement professionals? What personal traits or characteristics make some more successful than others? To me there are two that are particularly important -- character and curiosity.

Those possessed of this thing called character will understand and accept the moral weight of their jobs. They will not think of, or describe themselves, as just fund-raisers. They will speak to their ability to build relationships and to do so in a professional and authentic manner. They will speak to the need for personal and professional accountability. They will tell you that they did not see their responsibility coming to an end when a gift agreement was signed; to the contrary they will tell you how they did everything they could to make sure the institution they represented lived up to the promise implicit in that agreement. And long after commitments were made, they will tell you how they maintained communication with donors, how, in their mind, the donor was an investor and, as such, a entitled to know not only the status and impact of their gifts but the status and health of the institution itself.

Those possessed of deep curiosity will learn all they can about the institution they represent. They will profit from training opportunities but will not be limited by the lack of them. They will also seek out their prospects with a keen desire to understand what makes them tick, what their animating passions or pet peeves are, what their deepest held values might be and what their closest relationships are. And their prospects will be immensely complimented by the earnest interest shown in them, by the desire to better know them so as to find the most satisfying outlet for their philanthropy. Indeed, there is a powerful correlation between curiosity and intelligence, at least the kind of intelligence that we want to have in philanthropy. Deep curiosity is reflective of deep capacity to gather, store and recall knowledge and that is of huge importance in the personalization of philanthropy and in maintaining many relationships over time.

Give me these two traits, regardless of experience, and I will be delighted to provide the training or take the risk of promoting them quickly because my career has taught me that they will exceed expectations. They will successfully and sincerely engage significant numbers of prospects and create a stronger sense of community in and around the institution they represent. In subsequent posts, I speak to how we can find these and other important qualities in the hiring process.