Help your development director go the distance

Do you think that if you could just find the perfect development director your nonprofit would soar to great heights, receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, become a media darling, and have Angelina Jolie begging to speak at its next gala?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Unfortunately, studies show that a a development director sticks around on average for only 8-14 months and because of that s/he rarely has a huge and positive impact on the organization. More commonly, this person’s short-lived stint spells total disaster for the organization.

So what’s causing this huge turnover?

From our experience it’s not one single factor, but a number of different issues:

— Executive directors do not know how to manage development directors.

— Executive directors are looking at the short-term payoff rather than the long-term investment.

— Organizations breathe sighs of relief when they finally hire a development person who they think will “take care of” whatever ails the agency.

— Job description and expectations are way out of balance with the reality of the hard work necessary to raise money.

— Organizations tend to hire a development director prematurely–before other pertinent systems and staff are in place.

These are the unfortunate truths in the field of fundraising. But, there are easy, often overlooked ways that you can help your development director go the distance as a fundraiser and as a happy and successful member of your team. Consider the following:

1. Show the new DD some love. Make sure to say thank-you when he succeeds; involve him in all high level staff meetings; and make him an integral part of the team.

2. Keep the work interesting and exciting. Make sure she’s involved when the organization is looking at new programs or evaluating the mission. Invite her to retreats and ask for her opinion on new program opportunities.

3. Show the new DD the money. Conduct a salary survey to make sure she is being paid what she’s worth and evaluate her annually for raises, bonuses, and other non-monetary compensation (such as additional vacation days, etc.).

4. Build in professional opportunities. At least once a year give him an opportunity to attend an out-of-town conference; pay for his membership in the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP); and encourage him (and pay for him) to attend the planned giving roundtable in your community.

5. Think long term and give him assurance. It’s imperative that your DD knows you are looking at his long-term growth (rather than a short-term gain).

6. Offer job flexibility. Try to be flexible if she needs to work at home a day or two a week, or needs to come into the office at 11 a.m. on Thursdays rather than 8 a.m.

7. Offer training opportunities. Provide her with an opportunity to conduct training sessions on asking for money, raising money from donors, or developing corporate sponsorships. This is a good growth experience for your staff and will breed additional confidence in the new DD’s ability.

8. Give him what he needs to succeed. When developing your budget make sure to assign dollars to upgrading the fundraising database system, attendance at educational conferences, and additional computer system and technology training.

9. Invite her out to lunch. Once a month take your DD out to lunch as a way to show your appreciation and also to find out how she is doing on the job and how you could help to improve her performance.

10. Reward success. If she exceeds a goal, give her a few extra days off or pay for a weekend at a nice hotel for her and her family. And always say thank-you many times for a job well done.


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