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  • Marty Zimmerman

Development Staff: An Endangered Species Pt. 5

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Graphic of person trying to prioritize at work

How to find a great development director?

Throughout this blog series, I have discussed the decline of the Development Director, which has been coming for a long time and is a serious issue. This section focuses on what can be done to recruit good people from outside your organization and keep them!

Option 1: Do a traditional search but look for non-traditional candidates.

  • Look for people who are passionate about the work of your organization. Skills can be taught, but passion is either there or it’s not. Best practices show that nonprofits must invest in job training and provide access to a mentor or coach: Tell potential candidates this in the job posting!

  • Some of the best fundraisers are program people working in the trenches. People give with their heart, are moved by compassion, and are engaged by seeing change with their own eyes. Why not consider someone with a programming background? Again, the skills can be taught.

  • Have realistic expectations. For fundraisers, the expectations are so often not realistic (e.g. expecting your Development Director to walk in with a binder filled with donors to call). Keep your expectations realistic and communicate staff roles clearly and consistently.

Option 2: Change roles of current staff members and don’t hire anyone.

  • In this scenario, place the Executive Director in this role because s/he is the best person to lead fundraising efforts. Your ED has the big-picture vision, knows the program details intimately, and is the person funders want to meet with and talk to about the organization.

  • As a result of this approach, instead of hiring a Development Director, hire other staff members with consideration of the value they add to fundraising efforts. In this model, all staff members are required to identify donor prospects and, where appropriate, make introductions. Other staff members should keep close tabs on outcomes data and regularly provide it to the Executive Director in a manner that is tailored for fundraising efforts. Every board member is brought on with the clear expectation of fundraising.

Option 3: Hire an interim person

  • Hire a seasoned fundraising consultant to assess and make recommendations regarding your specific higher-level needs, such as development of strategies for institutional and major gifts as well as the growth of your annual fund. In addition, a consultant can assess the current skill level, involvement, and performance of the board, Executive Director, and other development staff, and offer recommendations that delineate roles and enhance overall organizational performance. A potential outcome could be using a consultant on an annual basis and revising the priority responsibilities of other staff, the ED, and board to meet your agency's needs.

  • Another benefit of an interim person is because of the nature of a non-profit consultancy. There are really two kinds of consultants. There are the consultants who hang up a shingle so they can find a job, and there are those who will always be consultants. In an ideal situation, find a consultant who has been consulting for fewer than three years and you are more likely to find the former kind of consultant.

Whichever option you choose, utilize the concepts from the previous blog (how to keep people). After all of this effort, here are some additional best practices to keep in mind:

  • Don’t settle for second best, hoping that the person will somehow work out; they seldom do.

  • Do hire for the personality and work ethic characteristics necessary to do the job. Resumes can’t tell you this part of the human equation.

  • Do pay attention to your instincts about fit and dedication to your culture and mission.

  • Do include the salary and benefits amount for the position in your job posting. This will help you attract a candidate that your organization can afford and someone who is willing to take a job in your proposed salary range.

  • Recognize that searches for fundraising professionals, tasked with raising millions or more for nonprofits, take months longer than the average C-suite search. The average nonprofit search can take three to five months and even longer if an organization wants capital campaign experience.

  • Top candidates are on the lookout for good organizational governance, including board term limits, a give-or-get policy, and 100% participation in that give-or-get.

  • Average salaries for development professionals can be found in the Colorado Nonprofit Association’s wage survey.

Most of all, ZIM wishes you the best of luck in your search for a rockstar Development Director!

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