Many times in our blog, Richard and I have written about the qualities an MGO or development professional should possess to be considered great, or at least be on the short list for being hired.
I want to turn that around.  This is a two-part series devoted to helping you discern the positive qualities you should look for in a non-profit you would want to work with, as well as some qualities to avoid.
If you are considering a new position in non-profit fundraising and major gifts, whether you have many years of experience or you are new to the business, I believe there are several things you should consider when looking for the right fit.
And by right fit I don’t necessarily mean looking for an organization that works to stop hunger or helps adopt pets.  I’m talking about the qualities you should look for in a non-profit so that you have the best possible chance of succeeding in your new job regardless of the organization’s mission.
First, I want to tell you something.  YOU are of great worth.  That’s right, YOU have great skills and would be an asset to any organization.  Get that into your head and feel it in your heart.  If you have been beat up by a recent employment situation, it is very important that you rebuild your self-worth before embarking on a job search.  If you don’t, you may very well get into another job where you are not valued.
Also, because of the job market today, another pitfall could be that you might be tempted to “take anything”.  That could result in a situation in which the non-profit doesn’t have the qualities or support you need to be successful.  I want you to go into this search for a new job feeling confident that YOU have great abilities and that you would be a tremendous asset to any organization you decide to work for.
Okay, now that you have the correct self-confidence (not over confidence, but solid self-confidence), here are some qualities in a non-profit that, over the years, Richard and I have found to be crucial to your success.

  1. They have a vision.  I’m not just talking about something they have framed on the wall in their lobby.  I’m talking about a clear vision of knowing exactly who they are and where they want to go in the future.  In your interview, if they cannot clearly answer that, there could be big trouble ahead.
  2. They have passion.  This is critical.  Richard and I always look for organizations that, in addition to having a vision, have a passion to fulfill that vision.  There is an energy about the place that is attractive and electric.  AND, it drives everyone there.
  3. They want to grow.  This is sort of close to the passion thing, but it is even more tangible.  It is a desire to move forward – to do even more. If this non-profit is addressing a problem, do they have long-term plans to do even more?  And are those plans couched in financial goals that grow? If they have no real growth goals, then why would they need your help?  That’s the way I would look at it.  You want to be part of an organization that has clear, long-term and growing financial goals.
  4. They are innovative.  Okay, so the non-profit has a vision, passion and growing long-term financial goals.  Now you should see if they seek out solutions in innovative and fresh ways that no one else is doing.  Remember, YOU have tremendous skills to bring to the table. Do you want to use them on an organization that is tired and staid or one that is forward looking and excited about the future?
  5. They treat their people well.  This is a big one.  A non-profit could have all four of the above qualities, but if they don’t treat their employees well, I would run away from it as fast as I could.  Now, admittedly, this could be somewhat difficult to discern.  But, I urge you to do your homework, talk to current employees and ask good questions to understand how a non-profit treats their employees and what are their expectations.  You want to know that people are honored and not taken advantage of.
  6. The organization is in good standing in the community they serve.  With your skills and accomplishments you want to consider an organization that is in good standing in the community.  Or, if this particular organization has had previous “problems”, there is at least energy from a new leader to turn it around in order for you to consider working there.  Remember, you are going to be working with donors who want to support an organization that is doing great things in the community.  That will be very difficult if the community has a poor view of that organization.  Remember this:  No one person can save an organization.  You are not a savior.
  7. They are donor-centered.  You can feel it when you walk in the door.  Do they honor donors?  Are donors central to their mission?  When you question leadership in your interview about donors, is it clear they hold donors in high-esteem?  When you talk to donors who give to the organization (yes, you’ll want to do this) do they feel integral to the mission?  Do they feel they are making an impact?  YOU want to work with an organization that is donor-centered and has a healthy culture of philanthropy.  I mean, this is half of their mission and you need to feel that it’s honored or YOU won’t be honored in your position.

These seven qualities are crucial to your success and happiness at the organization you will work with.  These have to part of the organization you will be spending most of your time with.  Think about it.  More than interacting with your family or friends, this is where you will spend the majority of your time.  The organization you choose has to be worthy of it.
Next time, we’ll talk about the qualities in organizations you need to avoid.  It’s not going to be pretty. (Click here for part 2.)