Let’s Hear It For The “51 Percenters”!

Anyone who’s around me for any period of time will learn quickly that I enjoy dining out. While I don’t consider myself a full-fledged “foodie,” I do appreciate cuisines of all types.

However, while the execution of the food is very important, the quality of the service is probably more important to me. As any foodie knows, the dining experience is not just about the food.

One of the books that I enjoy reading time and time again is New York restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. This book, a standard for anyone associated with the hospitality industry, focuses on Meyer’s story of beginning his first restaurant and learning that how you treat customers is of more value, perhaps, than the quality of the food you offer.

At one point he talks about the concept of “51 percent” that he learned from a fellow food industry executive. When this executive’s restaurant managers look to hire someone for a position in one of their restaurants, they grade applicants basically with a score set of 49 percent on skills and experience, and 51 percent on strength, confidence, leadership ability and what kind of person they are.

Meyer says, “It is my firm conviction that an executive or a business owner should pack a team with ‘51 percenters,’ because training them in the technical aspects will then come far more easily.” When seeking employees, five key attributes are sought, according to Meyer:

  1. Optimism and kindness
  2. Curiosity about learning
  3. An exceptional work ethic
  4. A high degree of empathy
  5. Self-awareness and integrity

I think this concept of the “51 percenters” is important for us to understand in the nonprofit sector as well – particularly as we seek new staff members or employees for our organizations . What I’m about to say may be a gross over-exaggeration, or even a generalization based on a few recent observations, but I’ll say it anyhow.

It is my experience that some Executive Directors or chief development officers look to hire individuals who can merely “get the job done.” They’re looking more for the technical abilities of individuals than they are for someone who can relate well to people and who listens first before speaking.

And many people looking to enter the nonprofit work force want to “read the book” or merely know the steps they should take to be a successful fundraiser with the focus being on the technical.

I see this whether the job seeker is a recently graduated college student looking for the first job or a longtime corporate executive who is experiencing a midlife career change and  wants to crossover into the nonprofit sector. Their focus is on the technical.

Remember, though, our business is ultimately about relationships – how we interact with others and how we make people feel a part of what we have to offer through our organization’s mission.

I agree that one needs a strong knowledge of the technical skills and the best practices of how to go about raising philanthropic dollars. But, in order to be the absolute best, you have to balance the technical knowledge with the strong emotional attributes that inevitably help to set a great development officer apart from a good one.

In fact, it’s more than an equal balance.

I say, “Let’s hear it for the ‘51 percenters!’”