October 5, 2015

4 Things Great Fundraising Candidates Do in a Job Search


I’ve worked with several organizations in the past year to help them find chief development officers. When I review candidates for fundraising positions, I look to see how the characteristics they exhibit during a job search will transfer to their work in fundraising. In every search, there are always a handful of candidates that stand out from the pack.

So what do these great candidates do?

1. They use data to illustrate their accomplishments.

Great candidates are able to show quantitatively how their work has made their organizations stronger than when they started.

These days, nearly everything in fundraising can be tracked, measured, and quantified. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure that your resume, cover letter and interview tell us, in numbers, the ways you’ve improved your organization’s fundraising programs.

On your resume, don’t simply list projects and responsibilities. Use numbers to describe your achievements. How many donors were in your portfolio? How many monthly visits did you make? Did you improve donor retention rates? If so, by what percentage? Did you exceed your goals? What kinds of changes did you make to your fundraising program, and what positive impacts have those changes had?

Look at your resume and revise it to make sure that these accomplishments are quantified, and make sure you’re well prepared to speak about them in the interview. If you can communicate your accomplishments with data, then you’re showing that you’ll be able to understand and communicate fundraising data to your boss, the board and your donors.

2. They have a high attention to detail.

How many times have you broken into a cold sweat when you’ve realized that something you’ve just sent – something important – has a major typo? It happens to the best of us, even the smartest and most talented people.

Attention to detail is important in the nonprofit world. Many nonprofits are understaffed and overworked. Other staff members may be too busy to thoroughly review your work, if you even have other staff at all!

Never send out a resume and cover letter without checking them over several times. Sometimes you’ve been staring at them for so long that you no longer see the mistakes. Read them very carefully, and ask a friend to help you proofread. If you’ve made mistakes in the materials you use to apply for a job, it may create the impression that you won’t be thoughtful or thorough when working with donors.

3. They’re friendly, articulate, and confident in an interview.

A job interview is a nerve-racking situation for many people. Then again, so is asking for a $1,000,000 gift!

One of the most important roles that a major gift fundraiser plays is to build relationships with donors. When I interview candidates, I want to know that they’re comfortable in high-pressure situations, can think on their feet, and can make potential donors feel comfortable. If you can confidently describe your accomplishments and why you’d make the perfect candidate, then you’re showing that you can speak to donors about the great work your organization does and why the mission is so important.

But for some of us, bragging about ourselves is not as easy as talking about how great our organizations are. Before an interview, it may be a good idea to talk with a trusted friend and practice talking about your accomplishments and goals. Think of a handful of major talking points. This may be a good way to collect your thoughts and help you feel more relaxed and confident, especially if you’re one who tends to get nervous and ramble.

4. They send handwritten thank-you notes (in addition to an email!)

We all know that thanking our donors is important. Showing gratitude is an essential part of maintaining donor relationships, and a handwritten note is one of the most personal and effective ways to do that. Many organizations have found that handwritten notes result in more regular contributions.

Sending a handwritten thank you note after an interview might seem outdated these days. But if you’re up for a fundraising job, a physical note is a must. When you send your interviewer a handwritten note, he or she will know that you’re someone who will go that extra mile to thank your donors.

The downfall of snail mail is that, well, it’s slow! That might tempt you to send a quick email instead of a handwritten note. But if you’re worried that your interviewer will forget about you while waiting for the mail to come, don’t be afraid to send an email AND a physical note! In the email, you may want to thank the interviewer, ask any follow up questions or provide any quick details that you might have forgotten. These kinds of things are much more time-sensitive. In the hand-written note, you may want to speak a bit more generally – why you’re so interested in this opportunity, and why you would make a great candidate.


A lot of the skills fundraisers use every day can translate easily to the skills you need in a job search. By keeping these four things in mind, you’re making sure you’re showing yourself at your best.

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Written by

Heidi Waltner-Pepper

Heidi is Senior Vice President at TWB Fundraising.


Questions or comments? Join the conversation!

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