Tips for Onboarding Junior Fundraising Staff

By Ashley Gatewood posted 03-18-2021 15:50


Setting your junior fundraising staff up for success begins with you. Properly onboarding new hires from day one ensures they understand your organization’s procedures and success metrics.


Most importantly, it’s your opportunity to show your freshest team members you value their skill set and are ready to help them flourish. This is the time to establish expectations and help your new staff person gain a firm grasp of their role.


Read on for useful onboarding tips from five CFREs around the world.


Jennifer Atkinson, CFRE, Canada
When onboarding a junior member of your fundraising team, it’s important to consider how much time you have to guide and coach them. Do you have multiple team members reporting to you? Are you also working directly with donors? Be honest. How much time do you REALLY have to mentor a new team member?


One of the key reasons why fundraisers move on is a lack of focus on professional development and mentoring in their current organization (Purposeful Fundraising, 2017).


Counter this by assigning from your team a mentor who can answer questions the new addition might have about best practices and strategy. In addition, the new team member could also shadow their mentor (when appropriate) when they are interacting with donors.


Ideally, the mentor would be someone with several years of fundraising experience who can share their own pathway to building relationships with donors. There are benefits on both sides of the equation; this is also a wonderful growth opportunity for a team member who hopes to oversee staff in the future.  


By establishing strong connections within your team, you also build a platform for collaboration and shared success.


Dane Bland, CFRE, Canada

As the philanthropic sector recovers, recruitment will once again ramp up as campaigns, events, and fundraising soars to new heights in 2021 and beyond.


However, this new digital reality is here with us to stay! It is important that we now acknowledge that folks will come from different and unique work and life situations. We need to build systems to accommodate these needs.


We also must continue to do better in building ways to celebrate and grow organizational culture in new, digital, creative ways as teams become increasingly de-centralized. And finally, and most notably, the philanthropic sector has significant under-representation of BIPOC and LGBTQI2 folks—especially in leadership roles.


We should build recruitment and talent retention plans that aim to lift up and celebrate diverse candidates, invest in their professional development (by helping them get their CFREs for example!), and give them a path to leadership and management.


India Alexis Ehioba, MNA, CFRE, United States

The best onboarding begins before the person starts by how the ad for the position is written, the description of the organization, and its mission and values.  

Expectations from both the employee and the employer should be made crystal clear during the interview and selection process. It’s important the process helps to identify that there is a match in values before the individual is hired.


The next step should be addressed in the interview process and building from there a real passion for the mission of the organization. Do everything you can to immerse the new fundraiser in the mission and to those who benefit from the organization’s success.


It is so important that this passion is emphasized early on. There should be a passion for both the sector and that specific organization.


After passion for the mission, there should be an opportunity for the new fundraiser to be introduced to their donors. Even if it is a letter/email announcing the hiring of the individual and sharing with the donor why they believe this person will be an excellent addition to furthering the organization’s mission.


This shows respect to your donors and provides the best transition to the new fundraiser.



Nigel Harris, MBA, CFRE, FFIA, GAICD, Australia


It’s a daunting thing—starting a new role at a junior level, especially at a young age in a vocation that has no formal education pathway or preparation process. For anyone not daunted in that scenario, that’s great. Confidence is good—if that’s what’s going on!


There’s a turnover issue in fundraising practice. A lot has been said about that. The sharper end of the issue appears to be at the junior staff or entry-level roles.


So, in a relationship business that has a vague learning pathway and an inordinately high churn rate, there is a leadership responsibility to attend to a problem at the beginning by creating a framework to onboard staff in a way that serves them, the supporter constituency, the organization, and its mission.


How do you do that? What do you do?


Well, here are a few tips that may be helpful.


  • Create an environment that provides support and safety at a personal level. Attend to the person first.
  • Frame expectations that are fair, balanced, achievable, and understood.
  • Establish an understanding of a knowledge base and what needs to be created to build on that base.
  • Support education and learning around practice as well as the development of personal and professional capabilities.
  • Make time to engage, listen, and offer counsel where appropriate. Be more than a manager when you need to be.
  • Provide open and honest feedback in formal and informal contexts. Always make it constructive and actionable.
  • Check in, use your emotional intelligence, attend to the program, performance, and professional as well as personal perspectives.
  • Invest in the future of your profession and its people. Build up the junior staff member to replace and surpass you in time. Now there’s a great way to create a legacy!


Beverly Neisler, CFRE, United States


A new fundraising colleague is hired; time to invest in his/her success!


Even an experienced professional still requires nurturing and training. It takes a committed team to ensure that the new colleague feels safe enough to ask questions and secure enough to lead.


Host a First Day “Welcome” breakfast for the entire team in honor of the new colleague and schedule a daily touchpoint meeting with his/her supervisor for the first month.


As a first task, have the new colleague schedule individual meetings with the team to learn about roles and to discuss how they interact with each other.


Providing an annual appeal and activity calendar helps to visualize the entire fundraising year and quickly links his/her role to the entire process.


Building a strong foundation for the new colleague starts with pacing the workload. Although it is tempting to hand over all duties at once, it is more beneficial to map out the priorities and provide strategic guidance along the way.


It is a significant investment of time, but the payoff yields a confident and contributing member of the team within three months, creating a shorter learning curve than if every duty is given simultaneously.


Happy fundraising!