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Hiring a Fundraising Professional
is Serious Business

by the AFRDS

It's that time of year when many non-profit groups evaluate their fundraising goals for the coming year and make decisions about how best to meet those goals. Often the process involves selecting a professional fundraising company, a decision that many compare to choosing a business partner or hiring a new employee. "You want to make sure you find someone you can trust - someone you believe will deliver," according to one school principal.

Using trust as a criteria, we asked Joan Benedetti, an Atlanta-based certified professional in human resources to offer her advice for introducing an employee or potential business partner. She believes thoroughness at every step is crucial. "Be prepared to ask and answer pertinent questions; listen well and check references", according to Benedetti.

Where to Begin

Fundraising companies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are large, national organizations. Others are mid-sized companies operating in a specific state or region. And then there are smaller one- and two-person businesses working in a limited geographic area. Some have a direct sales force. Others sell through mail order. The size of the company and the mechanics of their program are less important than the company's solvency, experience and reputation.

PTO fundraising chair Sharon Rivard first turned to the yellow pages to find a fundraising company. Day care director, Adrienne Zampini, found the fundraising company she's currently working with from a member of the center's board of directors. Most school administrators and parent leaders say finding a fundraising company is easy because the companies often find them.

After making several phone calls soliciting company literature, Rivard worked with her PTO fundraising committee to pare the list down to two or three companies. Appointments were scheduled to allow enough time for questions. Peter Worthington, owner of a fundraising company based in Rhode Island, says thorough interviews are important and appreciated by the companies. His company was among those invited to meet with RivardĚs committee.

"Some fundraising committees will expect you to give them all of the information they want in 10 or 15 minutes," Worthington said. He cautions fundraising organizers against making quick decisions based on emotions, "You really need to give yourself time to make an informed decision. Otherwise, you're choosing someone based on how they look."

Before accepting an invitation to present his program, Worthington will ask a few questions on the phone to determine the group's level of interest. He'll often forward a packet of materials in advance and be prepared to answer questions when he arrives for the meeting. "I prefer to come across as a problem-solver, not a business-chaser."

Advance Preparation

Before an interview with a potential employee, Benedetti prepares a list of specific questions for each candidate as well as a few of the same open-ended questions for consistency and focus during each meeting. "You'll get more insight into the individual beyond what they want you to see on their resume," said Benedetti.

When evaluating fundraising companies, sponsors should also prepare a list of key questions. The Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers suggests the following:

  • How long has the company and the individual representative been in the product fundraising business?
  • What value-added services does the company offer; and how much do these services cost?
  • How does the company address child safety?
  • Does the company understand and comply with your state's sales and use tax laws?
  • How responsive will the company be should problems arise?

A good challenge question to a fundraising company might be: What's the most difficult problem you've encountered and how did you solve it?

Likewise, an experienced fundraiser will have a few questions for a sponsor before he or she can present an effective program that is tailored to the needs of that organization. For example, they'll want to know about the group's overall goal. How many volunteers will be available to help? Will the group need a full-service program? Be prepared to answer these questions in advance or during the interview itself.

Interview Protocol: Listen and Learn

"Skilled interviewers are excellent listeners," said Benedetti. "Telephones, interruptions, lack of concentration or lack of genuine interest create roadblocks." The same is true when interviewing fundraising sales representatives.

Secure a quiet area for your committee to meet with each fundraising representative, advise experienced organizers. After introductions are made, explain how the interview and selection process will work and the time frame. Once the interview has begun, refer to the list of questions, taking notes to remember responses later.

Fundraising companies are usually prepared to provide samples to compare and evaluate product quality. For Zampini and others, product quality is a top priority. "I want to make sure that the brochure photography and descriptions accurately portray the products," said Zampini. Product sampling is an appropriate expectation.

Product sampling should not to be confused with other more inappropriate gestures, such as extravagant personal gifts which could be misinterpreted - potentially damaging the credibility of the company and the sponsoring organization as well as the individuals involved.

Follow-Up and Follow-Through

At the end of each interview, ask for and check out references. Find out if the company delivered on promises made to other organizations and if they met, exceeded or fell short of expectations? Once the selection was made (Worthington got the job), Rivard called the other company representatives to thank them for their time and to share the committee's decision. "They're disappointed of course. But if I'm professional, they're professional. It's business."

The Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers will provide a complimentary list of members offering fundraising products and services in your particular state, along with a checklist for evaluating fundraising companies. To order, write to: "Fundraising Checklist" c/o AFRDS, 5775-G Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta, GA 30342.

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About the Author:

This article is from the March 1999 issue of the Fundraising Edge, an online publication of the Association of Fund Raisers and Direct Sellers and is reprinted with permission. Visit their web site at for more information and a look at the complete issues of the Fundraising Edge.

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