Hiring a Development Director

As nonprofit organizations grow and begin to diversify their funding bases, they need to get help raising dollars and generating resources. Typically, in an organization’s early stages, when the budget is under $250,000 funding comes from only a few funding sources (usually the government) and the executive director writes all of the grant proposals and is responsible for raising the dollars. As the organization grows and broadens its funding base, a need arises to hire specialists to write grants, organize special events, and design overall fundraising plans. Soon the organization is in a position to hire a development director.

When hiring a development director, the executive director needs to think strategically about the correct role and function of a development director. There are three primary functions of most development directors:

  1. The major function is to handle all of the “back-room” tasks of the organization as it pertains to development. These duties include designing the fundraising plan and the one year operational plan; organizing the direct mail campaigns; writing the appeal letters; designing the donor strategies; researching grants and writing grant proposals; planning the special events; and other tasks relating to techniques and strategies of bringing in resources.
  2. The second function is to motivate the leadership of the organization to bring in money; set up appointments; open up doors; make personal contributions; staff the fundraising committee; etc.
  3. The third and very important function is to organize the time commitment of the executive director as it relates to fundraising and resource development. This would include ensuring the executive director goes to certain meetings with foundation and corporate executives; makes presentations at the targeted churches; and writes op-ed pieces in the newspaper.

With these functions and roles in mind, let’s look at some issues and ideas to consider when hiring a development director:

  1. The development director (DD) staff position has a high rate of turnover. From my experience the average tenure in general is less than two years. I believe this is related to the severe lack of clarity regarding the expectations of the development director. Usually, it comes down to the fact that most executive directors have unrealistic expectations as to what they can and cannot (or will not) do.
  2. Whoever is creating the DD job description should educate themselves on the difference between resource development, fundraising activities and special events. It is impossible to create an effective job description if you do not truly understand the appropriate responsibilities of the DD. Don’t make the mistake of hiring a DD when you are actually looking for someone to primarily write grants, or implement special events for your organization.
  3. Once you have a clear sense of what you want from a DD and have hired the ‘right person’ be sure to give your DD enough autonomy and time to build relationships, create a development calendar, research funding sources, and design the resource development plan. Recognize that successful resource development takes time. Sometimes it will take more than a year before the organization sees ‘tangible’ results that ‘pay’ for the DD’s salary. It is movement and momentum that is important.
  4. Consider bringing in an outside consultant who has experience hiring effective DDs. This person can assist you in drafting the job description and help you throughout the interviewing and hiring process.
  5. Your new DD should have a diversified fundraising background rather than just grant writing or special events experience. Identify people who have broad fundraising experience and an ability to work with your leadership.
  6. Hire a person with strong people skills and a solid organizational background. This person will have to relate well to all senior management staff, board leadership, and be able to integrate the programs and operations of the organization with the resource development needs.
  7. When hiring a DD, make sure that a few of your key board members (especially your fundraising committee leadership) and key staff are involved in the decision-making process.
  8. The DD is a member of the senior management team. Make sure they are in attendance when major decisions are made so they can integrate these decisions into the overall governance and fundraising structures.
  9. Make sure there is enough regular supervision and interaction on a weekly basis between the executive director and the DD. It is critical that the executive director commit at least one hour per week to meet with the DD.
  10. Hiring takes time – Allow enough time to do a strategic and thorough search. It might take up to six months to find the right person. Don’t sacrifice quality because you are in a bind to hire someone quickly.

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