Do your plans for the New Year include hiring a development director?
Perhaps your board is saying, “If we’re going to be better fundraisers, we need better professional training and support from the staff.”
I have this conversation often, because so many nonprofits are looking for skilled development people and want recruitment advice.
If your organization is in hiring mode, consider the following three options.
Option 1: Hire a seasoned professional
For many groups, this is the default strategy, based on the assumption that skilled fundraisers can apply these skills to any organization. They see recruiting a development director in the same way they think about hiring a plumber, a house painter, or an accountant.
Of course, someone who knows about fundraising knows about fundraising – and that’s very useful. However, this strategy comes with multiple risks.
- Enthusiasm gap. As a fundraiser, your most important asset is commitment to the mission. A person who’s successfully raised money for health care may be a poor fit for a library or environmental group or museum – simply because they may not feel as strongly about the cause.
- Cost. Because demand exceeds supply, professional fundraisers often command substantial salaries (which they can certainly deserve and earn). Under some circumstance, you may end up paying more than your executive director earns, which creates a potential conflict.
- Turnover. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the lifespan of a development director in a given organization is typically 18-24 months. There are multiple ways to address this challenge (see Joe Tumolo’s guest post) but the risk remains.
- Unreasonable expectations. The best development directors engage everyone in fundraising, rather than doing it all themselves. If you hire a good one, expect that person to create more fundraising work for the rest of the staff and board – not less.
Option 2: Grow your own
Do you have employees – typically program staff – who are smart and ambitious? Do they totally embrace your mission? Are they committed to learning new skills and taking on more responsibility?
As a second option, consider promoting an existing (possibly non-fundraising) employee into the role of development director.
You’ll start with someone deeply familiar with your work, and you’ll probably pay less that the cost of an experienced development professional. The money you save can then be invested in training, coaching, and mentoring.
After all, it’s just fundraising – a skill that anyone with motivation can learn and master.
Option 3: Free the executive director!
I know a very successful executive director whose organization includes 25 staff and a $6 million budget – and he spends 70% of his time raising money. He delegates most program and administrative responsibilities to managers so he can focus on outreach to major donors and other funders.
For many nonprofits – especially grassroots organizations with modest budgets – it may be easier to hire an associate director or deputy director who can take on management and/or program functions. This frees up the executive director to become the de facto development director and really focus on fundraising.
One advantage: a lot of funders and donors are more interested in talking with the boss, rather than development staff. Under this option, the leader is the primary development staff.
Mix, match, customize
It’s certainly possible to adapt these scenarios to meet your specific needs.
For example, you could contract with a consultant to run your fundraising program for a year, while the consultant trains a junior staff member to step into the role of development director during year two.
Don’t assume that your only option is hiring someone with a lot development expertise. Apply your best creative thinking to the challenge of staffing your fundraising functions.