Hug Your Development Director

Underdeveloped, a recent nationwide study by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services confirms what we already know: it is hard to find and keep a good development director. If you have one, beware: in organizations under $1 million, more than 57% of the development directors anticipate leaving the organization within two years. Unfortunately, the numbers weren’t much better for larger organizations.

The report offers a few key points:
1) Development directors have high turnover.
2) Positions often go unfilled for a long time.
3) It’s difficult to find high quality candidates for the position.
4) Nonprofits aren’t investing in the development and marketing activities overall.

Of course, for those of us working in the sector, we aren’t surprised. The development and marketing programs are usually the last funded, the first cut, and the least respected. . . Unless of course you have a good development director.

A good development director can make all the difference. They alleviate pressure on the CEO to raise funds, they attract supporters to the agency, and they can teach the staff be mini-marketing and development agents (also known as brand agents).

A good development director is hard to find. According to the report, “One in four executive directors (24%) say their development directors have no experience or are novice at ‘current and prospective donor research.'”

What makes a good development director? In my mind, there are a few essential elements.

  • Ability to raise money (a given, right?).
  • Ability to translate the mission into something tangible for each donor.
  • Ability to challenge others to think more deeply about their role in philanthropy and our human experience.
  • Ability to align the fundraising activities with the goals of program staff.
  • Ability to help staff of all positions see their role as brand agents.
  • Ability to keep track of, acknowledge, and report on just about everything and everyone under the sun.
  • A strong sense of internal ethics and integrity (not as much of a given as you’d hope, unfortunately).

I’ve met some amazing development directors and I’ve met some very shady ones. The worst thing I ever heard one say to a board was, “If you don’t have a personal story with one of our clients, just make one up. The donors won’t know anyways.”

A good development director is also in high demand. S/he is probably being recruited by larger organizations that can pay more.

So what should nonprofits with a good development director do? Hug them! We can ‘hug’ them by providing the tools they need.

Hug your development director:

  • Engage board members in development
  • Allow them to hire staff or at the very least recruit interns
  • Invest in software and training
  • Pay decent wages
  • Say thank you

This is critical. As the report says, “If nonprofit leaders don’t adopt this major shift in thinking and come to embrace fund development as a central and valuable part of their work, rather than an unpleasant distraction, fundraising success will continue to elude too many organizations.”

How do you hug your development director?




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