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Onboarding Tips to Help New Fundraising Staff Cruise to Success

Updated: Apr 19

Last week we received a merciful reprieve from cold winter weather and spent some time outside with the kids. The first thing on the to-do list?

Fundraising Staff Cruise

Busting out the mini red Mustang our wonderful neighbors gave us after their kids outgrew it.

It’s the kind of toy I wish had existed when I was a kid. The engine may not roar like a real Mustang, but when you throw it in drive, it can build up a surprising amount of speed.

Needless to say, our 4-year-old was excited to drive it (with his 2-year-old brother as a passenger), but my wife and I were a little nervous. We’re fortunate to live on a cul-de-sac where we can avoid traffic concerns, but there was still some potential for injury and property damage.

Before he drove the car, we were sure to walk through everything: step on the pedal to make it go, turn the wheel in the direction you want to drive, take your foot off the gas when you want to stop, and most importantly, listen when we tell you to stop.

With that advice, he did a great job: there were a few moments of terror along the way, but the kids had a blast, and we managed to get through it without injuries or property damage.

It turns out that putting a 4-year-old behind the wheel of a (toy) Mustang has some lessons for us as fundraisers and hiring managers.

Starting a new job is a lot like getting behind the wheel of that car for the first time. You know you’re there to drive and make it go in a certain direction, but there are a lot of little things that have to happen in order to get to your destination.

In my career, I’ve had a wide range of onboarding experiences. There have been times when I’ve received a thorough walkthrough and been told every detail of what the job entails. I’ve been able to ease into the role and attack it with confidence.

Other times, I’ve been handed the keys and been told, “good luck.” That’s when I’ve been most likely to make mistakes and approach a role without the confidence it needs.

In a sector where staff and management are stretched thin and always focused on the next goal, it’s easy to forget about the importance of onboarding. That’s a critical mistake. Much like the time to train my son on how to drive his car, that process is the difference between reaching the destination safely and burning out along the way.

As you develop an onboarding plan for new hires, here are some things you’ll need to incorporate:

Set Clear Expectations: How many days a week do staff come into the office? What are their initial goals? What are their long-term goals? What are their responsibilities and what responsibilities fall into other people’s basket of tasks? These are critical pieces of a person’s

day-to-day work that need to be established on day one. Unclear expectations lead to mixed results, but clear expectations give new staff a roadmap to achieve their goals.

Set a Tone for Constant Learning: Set the tone that every staff person, no matter how senior, needs to embrace professional development continually. A culture of learning and innovation will create results, while a stagnant environment will limit success. Give them resources for ongoing coaching, training, and any other resources that may be necessary to help them thrive.

Understand the “Why” Behind the Work: Everyone goes into a nonprofit job knowing their new organization does good work. That knowledge isn’t enough, though. New employee - especially one in a fundraising role - needs to immerse themselves in the mission and really understand how it all work s on a daily basis. That might mean meetings with program staff or trips into the field to see the mission come to life. A quick glance at the website and a look through a brochure aren’t enough. Onboarding is the chance for a new employee to fully absorb the mission and become a fearless advocate on its behalf. It’s also essential they understand their piece in the organization’s success at this stage. As fundraisers, that means they embrace the concept of “no money, no mission.”

Share Past Successes…and Struggles: A new fundraiser needs to know where “wins” have come from in the past, as this will give them a roadmap to replicate that success in the future. At the same time, it’s important to know where struggles have arisen and what may have caused them. That new employee is part of the team now, and hiding past struggles does a disservice to everyone involved. Your new fundraiser also has to be trained on how to share these successes with potential donors. Sometimes what motivates others helps others discover what might be key to them.

Know the Key Players: One of the most useful onboarding exercises I received was a checklist of meetings to set up. On day one, I was given a list of all of the managers in the organization (even those outside of my department) and was given a goal to set up a meeting with each of them. The goal was twofold: to set me up to communicate internally, and for me to learn the organization backward and forward. Those meetings were incredible. I learned more than I expected and laid the groundwork for collaboration moving forward. For new fundraisers, those meetings need to happen with management staff, but also Board members, major donors, and other key stakeholders.

Get Their Feedback: Want to know the fastest way to make a new employee feel empowered? Give them a chance to speak up throughout the onboarding process. Ask what they think of your processes and how they compare to their past experiences. A new hire has a lot to learn about your organization, but you chose to hire them for a reason. Set the tone for honest, open conversation and collaboration as they get more established in the role.

Other Thoughts: Mentorship is key to a new hire. Figure out the best way to mentor a new hire - maybe it’s you, another fundraiser on the team, or a fundraiser outside of the organization. Find a trusted person who can help them set priorities, learn how to tell a story, and define what they do. Plus, remember that a lot of information is being thrown at your new hire. Be patient, supportive, and help turn stumbles into opportunities.

Effective onboarding is crucial both to set up a new hire for success and to build longevity on your fundraising team. It takes commitment on the part of leadership, but by onboarding effectively, you’ll set yourself and your new hire up for tremendous success.

Are you struggling with your onboarding process? Drop us a line! Our team of is here to help.

Here is a timeline that might be helpful and includes discussion points for your new teammate.


Understand our mission, and remember YOUR part is to raise funds to support the organization’s work.

Be coachable - learning is growing.

Learn the story of our organization and make it your own.

Your manager is (I am) your coach - don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn to juggle early - it only gets more complicated....promise!


Find a mentor, and when you become the senior person, be a mentor.

Learn to prioritize tasks. If that seems challenging, ask your manager (me) for help.

Network, Network, Network - know what is happening in your community.

Ask good / hard questions of your prospects ...then listen to their answers.

Learn about the different ways to raise funds and how your position fits with the larger

fundraising strategy.


Use your team members - you don’t have to be the smartest on every subject - always know who is the best partner and bring them on your visit!

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