hiring directorIn 2013 CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund produced a report entitled Under Developed: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising. It shook the social sector. It proved what many people suspected. It focused on the exceptionally high turnover of development professionals. It also explained the contributing reasons for this situation.

Approximately one-third of executive directors were not satisfied with the performance of their director of development. In a quarter of organizations surveyed, a previous director of development was let go.

Considering you need money to run programs, this remains a serious situation for nonprofits. It happens for a variety of reasons. I think there is a lack of understanding at many organizations about what fundraising and development actually mean. I think there’s a lack of true commitment to the effort. There’s misunderstanding about what it takes to get the job done. All of this leads to hiring professionals who may not necessarily have the qualifications or skills that an organization really needs.

I will give you a great example of that. I know of a nonprofit that has been looking for a director of development. They wanted to hire someone who was a generalist. They wanted experience in events and grant writing. They also sought to expand into major gifts. So, they decided to hire someone who had heavy major gift experience. When the new director of development came on board, the only thing the director spent her time doing were grants and events. Inevitably, the director became frustrated. She wanted to create and grow a comprehensive development department, including major gifts. Ultimately, the relationship soured and they parted ways.

Folks, if your organization needs a detail-oriented grant writer and events person, don’t hire someone with strong individual giving background. These people have different strengths.


So, if you’re looking to hire a director of development, here’s what you should keep in mind:


  • Understand exactly what you need. Are you looking for someone who is a specialist in a specific area of fundraising? If so, don’t hire a generalist. Are you seriously looking to do the work that it takes to build and develop an area of fundraising, such as major gifts? If so, then make certain your hire has this type of expertise. If you’re not familiar with the skills sets and qualities a professional should bring to bear for a new area, research it. Call directors of development and executive directors from other organizations. Ask questions of those who have success. This will help inform your decision-making.
  • Remember that fundraisers are not sales people. They are in way, but they’re also not. Sales people in the for-profit world can sell anything. Sales people don’t care what they’re selling. They are motivated by money. However, fundraisers enter the social sector with other priorities. They may care about a particular mission or sector. When you’re reviewing resumes, make sure candidates that will be selected for interviews demonstrate a passion for the mission. If you’re in education, the person you will select to be your next director of development should have experience in education.
  • Seek someone who is comfortable in his or her own skin. Your director of development will be a critical part of your executive team. This individual will be making presentations to donors and your board. You want to be sure this person represents you well. During the vetting process, ask key board members to become involved in the selection process. The executive director or CEO needs to have the final decision, but you want to have board members also feel comfortable with the choice.
  • Give the new director of development time to do his or her job. Respect their expertise. I’ve found too often that organizations take their foot off the money pedal when they hire a new development director. They think that person will be making it rain money. Fundraising and development is a team sport. Nothing frustrates development professionals more than executives and board members who think they have no responsibility for fundraising. Rely on the expertise of your director of development. Partner with him or her and facilitate the board doing so as well. Metrics in development are very easy to ascertain. You’ll have success if you understand that the fundraiser does not only do fundraising, so do YOU.
  • If your new development director will be managing staff, it’s okay to hire someone with limited management experience. You may just need to groom him or her a little. What you really want to know is that this person has a track record of building strong relationships with past team members and donors. So, when you’re interviewing, ask those questions. You want to have someone who is a people person and will engage. You don’t want to have a director who will operate behind a closed door. And, ensure this person works well with your particular management style if you’re the CEO. Some people work better when they are given a lot of room to maneuver. Have an open conversation about management styles – both how they like to be managed and, if necessary, how they manage.




Wayne is the author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: The Rise and Fail of Charities and What You Can Do To Be Ready” (Free Digital Download)



© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.