Here are seven keys to identifying high-potential talent—at any level in your organization, but most importantly, among frontline development professionals.

High-potential development professionals:

1. Ask:

“Who is doing this really well?” and, “Can I job shadow him or her?” or, “Would he or she mentor me?” Willingness to model successful behaviors can accelerate learning.

2. Ask for the sake of learning.

Their questions aren’t limited to their roles in the organization. They seek to know and become experts on the big picture, including broader issues relating to higher education, healthcare, or the not-for-profit landscape. They take pride in learning. High-potential development professionals check their egos at the door. In donor appointments, they aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know much about ‘X’. Can you tell me more about it?”

3. Translate learning into action.

Some people truly are sponges—they absorb all kinds of information. However, knowing what’s going on and appropriately applying that knowledge are two different things. The high-potential professional has an innate sense for the situational application of knowledge. Asking questions, learning new information, and then using it in their work is important, but high-potential team members also discover what new questions to ask to refine skills and do a better job.

4. Seek to learn from those at all levels.

It’s obvious that the physician or scientist or dean or director is an important resource for information that can help engage donors, but high-potential professionals understand that everyone can be a resource. Learning from people at all levels of the organization provides a broader understanding of the possibilities to match donor passions with philanthropic opportunities.

5. Possess an enterprising spirit that conveys a “can-do” attitude.

They are constantly scanning the landscape for ways to get things done to benefit donors and their organizations. When presented with an unusual opportunity to match donor passions with philanthropic priorities, rather than saying, “That’s not really how we do things here,” they say, “Let’s see how we could make that happen.”

6. Have an innate sense of timing.

Their ability to read situations that lead to opportunities is well developed, so they know when to ask the next question and when to sit back and be quiet. They understand the value of thoughtful silence and when to share important information in ways that are appropriate to advance donor engagement that leads to philanthropic investment.

7. Build trust, confidence, and credibility.

Their knowledge and behaviors make them valuable members of your team. Their honesty and reliability, combined with their hunger to learn, allow them represent their organizations in ways that inspire philanthropic investment.


Because these attributes are most easily identified and developed once these professionals have joined your organization and applied their skills in working with internal and external constituencies, they are more difficult to confirm during the hiring process. Integrating questions about these characteristics into the reference-checking phase of the hiring process can provide important clues about candidates.

Specifically looking and listening for these characteristics and behaviors among your team members can help you identify high-potential talent who can become your organization’s top performers. Directing your time and resources toward accelerating their success is a wise investment.


Download “Competencies for Major Gift Professionals”