Developing Your Development Director | Funding for Good

by Funding For Good

Developing your Development Director is critical for the funding efforts of your Nonprofit. If there is one thing that can be universally agreed upon by nonprofit organizations, it would be this:

Raising money is hard.

It’s true. Even though your organization is focused on its mission, has strong leadership, and is needed in the community, funding is still often hard to come by. So, it should come as no surprise that most nonprofits struggle to optimize the performance of their development staff. There are some strategies to consider when Developing your Development Director. Here are the best practices I have witnessed when building a strong nonprofit development team.

Hire the right person

Hiring the wrong person for a job is a common mistake, and one that will have a lasting effect. A nonprofit employee is a significant investment and the cost to replace them can be staggering. According to PeopleKeep, some studies predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. For a development professional making $40,000, that’s $20,000 to $30,000 in recruiting and training expenses. Not to mention the amount of funding that is lost during the vacancy of that position. Yikes!

The first step is to know the responsibilities of the role you are looking to fill. You should prepare a well thought out job description. Interview questions should be developed for online, phone and in-person interview scenarios. Preparing this information before engaging individuals in an interview process is important.  Due to your preparation, you can more easily identify the best candidates. Along those same lines, it helps candidates determine if the job is what they are seeking.

Believe it or not, Executive Directors and Board of Directors often have little development experience themselves. Often times they don’t fully understand the roles and responsibilities of a successful development director or development staff. Yet they are tasked with interviewing potential development staff. The development field has specific nuances. When Developing your Development Director and staff, asking the right questions are important.

Here are 10 questions to consider adding to your list. Note: These questions may not apply to all organizations. For example, if your organization does not plan to write grants, question 10 should obviously not be on your interview list. Remember, it is important to know what the answers could be, should be and how to interpret potential replies. If you have little to no development experience, consider consulting with someone who does before interviewing for a development position.

  1. What attracted you to this job?
  2. What is your favorite part of development?
  3. Tell me about the largest gift you DIDN’T get.
  4. Tell me about a particularly moving or surprising experience you had working directly with a donor.
  5. In your experience/opinion, what is the most important part of fundraising?
  6. What motivates you?
  7. What’s your most successful strategy working with donors and what is the donor retention rate of your last x organizations?
  8. How do you steward a $5 vs a $5000 donor?
  9. Have you created your own development plan to reach goals set by an organization? If so, what is your process?
  10. What is your grant writing experience? How many have you have written/received/amounts requested? What % of previous budgets funding was reliant on grant funding? Have you ever written state/federal grants?

The second part of hiring the right person is having the resolve and patience to stick with that person. Starting a position with a new organization is challenging regardless of your skill set. It takes time to develop relationships with coworkers and supervisors. A new employee needs to become comfortable with the expectations and responsibilities. I encourage you to have a structured plan for the first few months. A structured plan allows them to get a grasp of the organization while also having some early successes. It’s important to know what types of expectations are realistic and the types of goals you should set when Developing a Development Director and staff. You’ll want all of this ‘job related’ framework in place before making a hire.

Confidence is key when Developing a Development Director. Here are 7 confidence boosting tasks to consider for the ‘structured plan’ period:

  • Introduce them to key donors and community partners.
  • Have them review grants that your organization has successfully written in the past.
  • Direct them to make simple thank you phone calls to past donors.
  • Teach them how to use your donor database/software so they can independently run reports and gather data going forward.
  • Encourage them to set up individual meetings with board members to begin the relationship building process.
  • Provide them with the organization’s strategic plan so they can learn the expectations of the organization and each department.
  • Provide them with a current, prioritized needs list for fundraising and grant writing. 

 These tasks will get your development staff in the right mindset for success while also introducing them to key people and concepts within your organization.

Have Reasonable Expectations

Please understand, this is not code for “don’t challenge your employee.” Let me encourage you to step outside of the short-term mindset. If you are the leader of an organization, you’re used to putting out fires all day. Sometimes that is the necessary mindset to take care of daily operations. However, it should never be your mindset with your employees – especially those in a leadership position.

When developing your development director, it can be tempting to throw them right into the fire. Avoid this temptation. Try to find a way to ask big-picture questions while simultaneously meeting short-term goals. What is in the best interest of your company? Immediate results or long-term, sustainable success? The obvious answer is both. So why is it that development staff tends to only focus on the immediate needs? There are a lot of possible answers to that question. The key is to make sure that whatever situation your organization is currently in, you don’t make the mistake of sacrificing long-term sustainability in favor of immediate needs.

When setting expectations, it’s sometimes overlooked that development professionals need time to develop relationships with current donors. Not to mention time to cultivate relationships with potential donors. Experienced development professionals estimate 18-36 months of cultivation is required before receiving a major gift (donation of $10,000+). That clock resets each time your organization experiences turnover in your development staff. So yes, push them to hit the ground running but don’t lose focus on the big picture. It’s important to ease someone into their new role successfully when Developing you Development Director and staff.

Communication Effectively

If you only have one takeaway from this article, I hope it is this one: All great leaders are incredible communicators. As an effective leader, you must cast vision and empower your employees. Without great communication, this can’t happen.

This may sound simple, but in the nonprofit world, employees are spread thin. I don’t think lack of communication is ever a conscious choice, but a byproduct of being too busy and an overall lack of prioritization. Make sure that you don’t view every potential interruption as an emergency. When developing your development director, block off time each week to discuss progress toward goals. Also use the time to communicate what is going on with the organization. The more the development staff knows, the more effective they will be in securing funding.

If you have ever worked for a poor communicator, you can understand how that can negatively affect your job performance. For your employees to execute your vision for the organization, they must understand their piece of the puzzle. What good does it do to set expectations for your employees if they don’t know what they are OR how to get there? Always be intentional about effectively communicating with your team.

Have a Plan 

How can any piece of your business be successful without a plan? Goals without plans are nothing more than wishes.

Sit down with your development staff frequently to discuss goals and responsibilities for the short and long term. Here are 8 Development Planning ideas for discussions:

  • What does your organization need in the next 3 months?
  • Do you have diversified funding streams and which ones are your development staff responsible for annually?
  • What is the strategy for accomplishing each development goal?
  • Is the development staff responsible for or a part of creating those strategies?
  • How are you going to get there?
  • Who is going to be responsible for what?
  • What does reporting look like, to whom, how often and in what format?
  • Is there is a need for the next 12 months? The next 5 years?

When Developing your Development Director and staff, you should constantly ask these questions. This exercise will ensure that your team will be effective in addressing all needs and what is most important.

If you hire the right employee, set reasonable expectations, communicate effectively, and allow your development staff to have a voice, you will create unparalleled buy-in.

Collaborative Evaluation

To effectively evaluate performance, you must be on the same team as your employee. Approach them as a partner, with a mindset of working out a plan together. This should be a simple four-step process: Strategize, Execute, Analyze, and Adjust. Too frequently, I see goals passed down, with no understanding of how those goals are to be met. Having a monthly meeting to track progress will prevent small, preventable problems from getting out of control.

Step 1: Strategize

Meet with your development team and review your goals together. Collaborate on the best strategy to reach each goal. This strategy should include things like assigning responsibilities and timelines so that the next steps will be more effective. Often this results in a development plan that is created at the end of each fiscal year with a projection of realistic expectations for the coming year. A well written and thought out development plan should result in an easily trackable monthly chart of incomes/expenses which can be used to report to staff and board.

Step 2: Execute

After collaborating and developing a plan, empower your development team to go execute the plan. Let it be known that lines of communication are open and that you are available to support them in any way needed. Note: If you are going to hire someone with no experience because ‘they have a passion for your organization’, be sure to give them some training and don’t expect miracles right away.

Step 3: Analyze

Next, come together to review what worked and what didn’t. There will be ideas that don’t go the way that you planned – that’s okay! Understand that people and ideas need room to succeed and room to fail. When Developing your Development Director, if something doesn’t go as planned, own it as a team and learn from it.

Step 4: Adjust

After your team has analyzed results, it’s time to decide what to do next. Maybe you tweak an idea or get some input from a new source. Maybe you decide to scrap the idea completely. Either way, this is a team-building exercise that promotes communication and collaboration. This process should never be about pointing fingers, but rather identifying opportunities to improve your development efforts.

Your employees want to be successful, both personally, and for your company. As the leader of the organization, your responsibility is to be there to support them, plan with them, and hold them accountable. When an employee feels like part of a team, they are going to be much more productive and open to suggestions and new ideas.

Finding the right Development Director may not be easy, but they are out there! Find them, challenge them, and support them, and you will see your organization thrive!

If you need help writing a job description, searching for and interviewing development staff candidates, or Developing your Development Director, Funding For Good is here to help. Learn more about our Development Coaching or schedule a Vision Call to talk with us about your current needs.