A question of competency

This article relates to the Commission on the Donor Experience project 14: Getting the right people as fundraisers.

Written by
Helena Sharpstone
Added
June 13, 2017

I take my hat off to people who get a buzz from interviewing for staff. I’d rather have root canal work. All those endless questions to people you know aren’t a good fit about five minutes in to the meeting. Pinning your hopes on the best of the bunch only to have them turn you down. Candidates whose CV is a work of fantasy. It’s a minefield. But it has to be done and if done properly it can be satisfying and get you good people.

Interviewing well for fundraisers is like interviewing for any post. It’s all about the questions you ask. If you truly are committed to donor-centred fundraising it needs to feature big in all your selection processes from the job and, in particular, the person specification to the questions you ask at interview.

The best way to find out what you really want to know and get reliable responses is to ask competency-based questions.  These encourage the candidate to demonstrate real experience in areas of the post where you need them to be – well – competent. They can talk about what they have done and the result, not what they might or would do.  Put another way, competency-based questions are more systematic, they target a specific skill or competency. Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances, which they then need to back up with concrete examples. This is an excellent way to probe the true nature of their donor-centred approach.

Try to avoid hypothetical questions, the ‘how would you...?’ types. I would love to think I’d save the drowning dog, run in to the burning building as an act of rescue, stand up for someone being abused on a train – but how do I know until it happens? The only reliable information is what I have done and a competency-based question will find that out. You’re looking out for questions that begin:

  • Tell us about a time when... ?
  • Give an example of something you have done...
  • How did you tackle... ?
  • How have you coped with... ?
  • What has been your approach to... ?
  • Name three things that you have personally implemented...

and so on.

Watch out for answers that may mask real, individual experience.  Warning bells should go off if you hear too much of the word ‘we’. Don’t be afraid to ask What specifically did you contribute to the project?’ Can you tell us more about your personal involvement?What results were down to you? Also watch out for overuse of the same example in their answers, especially if experience is what you want. Some fundraisers are truly experienced, some are just having the same experience over and over again.

So to make the search for fundraisers more palatable and more productive, the competency-questions approach is the way to go. It means you are putting your potential next fundraiser in the best possible place to demonstrate her, or his, donor-centred approach and experience.  

About the author: Helena Sharpstone

Helena Sharpstone

Helena is co-owner of leadership and team development consultancy Sharpstone Skinner. She’s an experienced facilitator, mentor, coach, speaker and writer working with leaders, teams and individuals to improve performance and impact. A licensed practitioner of insights learning and development, Helena’s specialties include leadership coaching, management development, team spring clean, personal effectiveness, presentation skills, and interview techniques.

Recent Articles

Secrets of direct mail 3: how people read letters

How do potential donors react to direct mail letters? In part three of our series on the legendary Siegfried Vögele, we explain this important aspect of his approach.

Read more

SOFII presents: meet the fundraising myth-smashers

Over the coming weeks, SOFII will share the three winning presentations from Myth Smashers, Fundraising Institute Australia’s IWITOT-inspired event. These three young fundraisers each shine a light on dispiriting fundraising myths and show how they can be overcome.

Read more

Marie Burnett: she lived, laughed, loved and left a huge hole in our hearts

We are sad to announce the death of Marie Burnett, co-founder of SOFII, trustee, company secretary, honorary treasurer and voluntary editor in chief.

Read more

Secrets of direct mail 2: answering the right questions with your envelope

In part two of our series on the ideas of Siegfried Vögele, Chris Keating explains how to use Vögele’s method in how envelopes are designed. Something that simple can make all the difference to your direct mail campaign. And you could also help some capybaras too.

Read more

Secrets of direct mail 1: the extraordinary findings of professor Siegfried Vögele

Have you discovered the great Siegfried Vögele and his dialogue method? If not, this new series on SOFII by fundraiser Chris Keating is for you. In part one, Chris introduces you to Vögele’s approach and methodology. Stayed tuned for further articles looking at how to apply them in practice.

Read more