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Revamped and successful: The fundraiser interview process at Northern Arizona University

Candidates must tackle four tasks that every major gift officer must handle
University Business, November 2016

Betsy Mennell, Northern Arizona University’s development vice president, learned the hard way that “in fundraising, if you speak the language you can talk the talk, but you may not be able to walk the walk.”

After being burned a few times hiring the wrong people—“disorganized, not self-disciplined, afraid to ask for money”—she now requires candidates to tackle four tasks that every MGO must handle.

  1. Plan a three-day trip itinerary. “We give them a list of more prospects than they can possibly see in one trip, along with basic information about each one. They prioritize the list, choose an anchor visit, plan the logistics of who they’d visit when, even ‘book’ a flight, because that is what we have to do.” This task showcases how candidates process information and choose prospects, and how organized and practical they are.
  2. Visit an actual donor. “We send them to visit a prospect we know well, maybe a board member. The candidate signs a confidentiality agreement. A staff member goes along, makes the introductions, then sits back and watches.” The hiring committee finds out how well the candidate questions, interacts with and relates to a prospect.
  3. Write a contact report. Following the prospect visit, the candidate writes a contact report. “We can see if they pick up on the right cues, ask the right questions, and recommend the correct next steps.”
  4. Lead a prospect strategy session. “We give them more details about the prospect, and they meet with two other development officers. At least one shares an interest in this prospect, but the candidate takes the lead.” This shows the candidate’s ability to work with other MGOs and identify prospect strategies.

The interview process is working so well, Mennell expanded it from hiring only MGOs to all development staff positions.

“Each institution is different, and the tasks should be tailored to meet your needs,” she says. “Having people do things that are important to our organization has helped us bring on some very talented fundraisers.”

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