How to Hire a Nonprofit Marketing Director

Job SearchHiring in the nonprofit space can be challenging, just as it often is in the commercial sector.  But maybe for different reasons.

Last week I blogged about integrated fundraising.  A reader asked me to write a follow-up to that post to explore the key traits and talents you should look for when trying to hire a nonprofit Marketing Director to help move your organization from a siloed approach to fundraising to an integrated strategy.

Do you hire an advertising agency executive and teach her fundraising?  Or do you hire a fundraiser and attempt to teach him integrated marketing theory?  What other unique qualities and skills does this person need to have in order to be successful in this role?

I’ve worked in a nonprofit to build an integrated fundraising platform from the ground up, and I’ve consulted with more than 100 nonprofits and political organizations all across the U.S. in my career.

But I’m by no means an expert when it comes to screening applicants and identifying quality candidates for a role like this.

That’s why I reached out to my good friend Jami Pogue for help on this.  Jami is a Search Consultant and Executive Coach at SIMA International, a Minneapolis-based consultancy that provides retained search, talent management and coaching services to corporations and nonprofit organizations.

Together, we’ve built a list of key traits and criteria you should look for when seeking a senior-level marketing candidate to help launch an integrated fundraising program for your nonprofit.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, we do think these are critical success factors for this role:

1. Missional: This person must be others focused, mission-driven and embrace a purpose larger than herself.

2. Generosity: A generous person herself, this person must embrace the concept of philanthropy and be able to cultivate it in others.

3. Vision: This person must have the ability to see what can be and not just what does or doesn’t exist today.

4. Persuasion: Moving from a single channel environment to an integrated platform requires a lot of negotiation.  This person must have fine-tuned political/persuasion skills in order to negotiate between multiple, often competitive departments.  Ideally, this person has demonstrated experience aligning multiple groups in a common direction and securing the necessary buy-in at all levels (staff, leadership, budgetary) to make system-wide change.  The ability to communicate complex concepts equally effectively to senior staff, technical experts and junior staff is essential.

5. Social Excellence: This person must have high emotional intelligence, expertly appropriate in both 1-on-1 and group settings.  This is someone others want to know because they’re interested, interesting and inspiring.

6. Direct Marketing Knowledge: Success in this complex role requires a significant depth of experience in direct marketing or direct response fundraising.  This craft is unique unto itself, and significantly different from traditional brand advertising and general marketing.  The ideal candidate will have broad experience and demonstrated success across multiple marketing channels (i.e., DRTV, outdoor, digital, radio, telemarketing, direct mail, etc.).

7. Service: This person has a demonstrated history of community service through participation on nonprofit boards, committees, etc.

8. Relational: Must be winsome, outgoing, and an initiator in building trust-based relationships with people of all backgrounds.

9. Analytical: It is critical that this person understand how to turn information into intelligence, and intelligence into action.  A solid understanding of the key performance drivers and metrics of each communications channel and the impact created by the interaction of multiple channels is essential.

Now that you know what to look for in a nonprofit Marketing Director candidate, you just need to know the questions to ask to identify these traits and abilities.

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8 thoughts on “How to Hire a Nonprofit Marketing Director

  1. Good list, Andrew and Jami. Having served successfully in that role also, I might add another factor that is critical: an understanding of unique audience profiles and the ability to adapt channel, message, cadence, and format to engage them. Some of that comes from solid DM knowledge as you note, but I think it’s broader than that.

    • Hi Colleen,

      Great to hear from you! I hope you’re doing well.

      Thanks for sharing this point. I think you’re so right on this. It is more than just DR experience, but that understanding of each audience segment is so critical. Great addition!


  2. My! Reading this email, it describes Andrew Olsen to a “T”. I would submit that someone involved in marketing non-profits also needs not only what Colleeen mentions, but a level of compassion and the gut level ability to tell a good story. It’s not about grandizing or padding what’s there, though, but being able to move the recipient/donor/listener to respond and identify in some way with your message and appeal. This role takes a bit of life experience and I think even the school of hard knocks is a good qualifier.

    • Hi Barb,
      I owe you an e-mail, I know! Thanks for your comment on the post. You’re so right about the compassion and storytelling ability. Speaking of that, Have you read Dan Portnoy’s new book, Nonprofit Storytelling? If not, you should pick it up. It’s a great read.

  3. Having served a few nonprofits, I’d like to add a few more requirements.
    1. Patience. This is especially the case if someone is coming from the for-profit sector. Decisions are not made quickly and can frequently be inconsistent with accepted marketing principles.

    2. Creative. Being able to do creative things with less money is essential. Frankly, this is more important than having direct marketing experience. There are external direct marketing experts s/he can work with, but this person must have a creative mind.

    3. Writing skills.Being a good copywriter is a bonus. Otherwise, this will need to be outsourced. Marketing copywriting is a talent and skill and although internal staff may claim to be good writers, they are often NOT!

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  5. Thanks for your comment, Patrick. It is very odd. I would cmpaore it to a situation like this: a local financial institution supporting a small, social service nonprofit on a very small scale project. There have been talks to expand that support on a much larger level, but it is still small scale at this point. That financial institution then encourages the other organizations in the community that they support to call a specific contact at the nonprofit (name and contact info provided by financial institution) to ask for sponsorship donations. It creates a very sticky situation the nonprofit is then positioned to say no to organizations it is looking to collaborate with in other ways, and word will get back to the financial institution that the nonprofit is not providing support. Is there a way to call out this sponsor and put it all on the table without damaging the relationship?