How to Hire Your First Fulltime Fundraiser, Even if You Can't Afford It

September 30, 2019 Joe Garecht

By Joe Garecht

Nothing is more important for your organization than fundraising.  Without fundraising, you can’t run any programs, or even keep the lights on.  The money that your donors invest in your organization is the lifeblood of your arts and cultural organization. 

Yet, many smaller organizations try to relegate fundraising to second-class status.  They know their programs are important, but see fundraising as a “necessary evil,” something that they have to get through in order to get to the important stuff.  Because of this, they shy away from investing money into fundraising.  This especially true when it comes to fundraising staff.  Most non-profits wait way too long before they hire their first fulltime fundraiser.


When to Hire a Fulltime Fundraiser

I often am asked when the right time is to hire a fulltime fundraiser for a small organization.  While the answer will differ for every organization, depending on what strategies they use to raise money, in general, every organization that is raising more than $500,000 per year should have a fulltime fundraiser on staff.  Many organizations should hire a fulltime fundraiser sooner, particularly if they are relying (as they should) on individual donor cultivation to raise money.

Think about it this way… how many for-profit businesses that make over $500,000 per year don’t have a sales or marketing person on staff?  The answer is very few.  If you want your programs to thrive, then you need to raise the money they need to thrive.  The best way to do this is to have someone on staff who spends 100% of their time raising money to support your work.

Do You Have a “Secret” Fulltime Fundraiser?

When I tell small non-profits that they need to hire a fulltime fundraiser, many push back, telling me that they are raising a good amount of money already, without a fulltime fundraiser.  When I dig deeper, I find that many of these organizations already have a “secret” fulltime fundraiser.

That secret fulltime fundraiser could be the Executive Director, who spends 80%+ of their time raising money.  It could be a board member or volunteer who is particularly focused on raising money.  Or it could be some combination of all of the above…. a team of people putting in 30-40 hours per week raising money, instead of a fulltime fundraiser.  Regardless of how they are doing it, these non-profits are putting significant hours into fundraising… imagine how much they could do if they had a fulltime fundraiser on board, whose efforts were magnified by all of that staff and volunteer help!


How to Afford Your First Fulltime Fundraiser

Maybe your organization knows it is time to hire a fulltime fundraiser, but has been putting it off because you’re not sure where the money to pay this person will come from.  (As an aside, don’t skimp when it comes to fundraisers.  If you underpay your people, you will either get subpar results or face incredibly high staff turnover).  So how can you afford to hire frontline fundraiser for the first time?  Here are some ideas:


Hold a Board Campaign

One idea that some non-profits have used successfully is to run an extra board-giving campaign to ask the board to help fund the position for one-year.  After all… who knows your need to hire a fulltime fundraiser better than your board?  Having one-year of funding for the position in hand will go a long way to allowing to comfortably hire your first fulltime fundraiser.


Seek Funding to Build Capacity

Similar to the board campaign idea above, your non-profit could seek out a capacity building grant or leadership gift to allow you to hire a new fulltime fundraiser.  Talk with foundations and individual major donors who already know and support your organization to see if they might be interested in providing all or a portion of the funding you need to hire a fulltime fundraiser.


Add Fundraising Hours Before Hiring

This route is probably the most common for smaller non-profits.  Once you are certain that you need to hire a fulltime fundraiser, ask your board, staff, and volunteers to commit extra time to raising money so that your organization will have a surplus which it can use to hire.  This might mean cutting back on the hours spent on other tasks like communications, public relations, or new program initiatives, while your team puts the funding in place to be able to hire your first fulltime fundraiser.

Whatever method you choose, there are a few you should definitely avoid.  First, don’t offer to pay your fundraiser on a percentage basis.  This is unfair to the fundraiser who will need to spend 12-18 months building off of your current donor network and building relationships with new donors (most good fundraisers refuse to work on commission).  Second, don’t tell your new fundraising hire that the first thing they need to do is to “go out and raise your salary.”  Your non-profit needs to be committed to fundraising, and that includes investing in your new hire. 

Hiring your first fulltime fundraiser can be a game changer for your non-profit, leading to more revenue, better programs, and more impact for your organization. 


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