The other day I got lunch at Bowery Eats, a cooking supply store in Chelsea Market that also happens to have a sandwich bar. My timing was terrible and when I got there at 1:20pm, there was a long line plus a stack of phoned-in orders.
10 minutes isn’t long, but it’s more than a couple of standard deviations away from the mean in terms of how long you expect to wait for a sandwich. Plus, five people with higher order numbers than I had gotten their sandwiches, so I started to get antsy. I asked the woman at the counter how things were coming, and if they’d lost track of my order.
That’s when things got interesting. She smiled. She went to the back to check on my order. She explained that it was taking longer because they heat up the mushrooms in the oven. She checked again a few minutes later. And then, 15 minutes in (five minutes after I’d first asked how things were coming), she actually said to the staff, in Spanish, “I’m not going to put any more sandwiches out until we finish up Order 31.”
And, I swear, I hadn’t made a big fuss at all.
Because of her, not only was I not annoyed, I was impressed. Her job description might appear to be taking orders, getting customers’ money, and giving them sandwiches, but she was a natural at knowing just what to say and how to say it, with a smile, to make me feel attended to.
This knack is something I look for in hiring fundraisers. Sure they need storytelling skills and passion and empathy, they need a thick skin and a dogged determination and the ability to build relationships. But all the truly great fundraisers I know are also….something that this woman had. “Polite” is the word that comes to mind but that doesn’t capture it, though people who naturally have good manners have some of the trait I’m looking for. It’s more an unspoken knack to let someone know that you see them, that you’re paying attention, that you are a concierge for them within your organization.
It’s not the easiest thing to test for, but after you conduct your interviews of your top candidates, you can take a step back and ask everyone who interacted with the interviewees: how did they make you feel?
(p.s. thanks to DC Foodrag for the picture)