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Is it Time to Hire a Development Director? Here are Your Next Steps

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

There are a lot of ways to conceptualize the growth of a nonprofit.

Nonprofit Life Cycle

No two organizations develop in the same way, but there are concepts like the nonprofit life cycle that document how organizations grow, innovate, and expand their impact.

I argue there’s a much more informal, unpredictable sign that an organization is going through a period of growth: that overwhelming feeling that there aren’t enough hands in the organization to complete all of the work.

Maybe grants aren’t getting submitted on time. Maybe your donors are getting frustrated because you’re not returning calls on time. Or maybe, unfortunately, your staff was so inundated with work you weren’t able to close a gift that had otherwise looked promising.

There’s no way to indicate the exact point in the nonprofit lifecycle when you need to grow your staff, but when you feel like you can’t keep up with fundraising tasks, it’s urgent that you begin the process of hiring a Development Director. This is especially true if your organization no longer has time to pursue prospects for new funding. If you can’t expand your pool of donors, then your organization is bound to stagnate!

This step is exciting but intimidating.

You’re bringing on a staff member who is empowered to represent your organization to the community and serve as your representative to donors and stakeholders.

That person will shoulder a lot of responsibility and enter a position that still sees strikingly high turnover.

Needless to say: you want to get this hire right!

You want to find someone who will connect with your mission, carry themselves well with donors, and be in the role for the long haul. And, of course, have the energy, enthusiasm, and persistence to get the job done.

Easier said than done, right?

Hiring a new staff member is always intimidating, but here are some steps you can take to help your new Development Director flourish:

Hire attitude, train skills: You’ve heard us say it a million times - the best hires are the people who have the inherent talent that will let them thrive in a job. Don’t let a thin resume stop you from hiring someone who has shown they have the tenacity, creativity, and work ethic to thrive in the position. If you’re confident that person has a bright future in the profession, there’s no reason to let that come to fruition with another organization. Recognize the unique opportunity to bring in the right person for the right role.

That said, when hiring someone based on their inherent talent, it’s critical that you hire someone who can grow into the role. And, one more thought—Hire the Brave as they will not be afraid of the challenges that come with the job- Like calling strangers!

And-- Hire someone that fits and will excel with your leadership style.

Provide mentorship and coaching: The most talented, enthusiastic fundraiser won’t be able to succeed without structure and support. Give your new Development Director a safe space to learn the ropes, get constructive feedback, and collaborate with a mentor on the intricacies of the job. Without support, the most talented fundraiser will likely burn out and contribute to the never-ending cycle of nonprofit turnover. Providing this type of support will help them realize their full potential and thrive in the role over the long term.

Set realistic goals: A new Development Director has to know exactly what they’re trying to achieve. How much money does the organization need to raise this year? How can fundraising contribute to programmatic goals? What kind of relationships does the organization need to cultivate in the coming months and years? Coming into the job with goals that are attainable and connected with the organization’s strategic vision will give valuable structure to their work.

Avoid siloes: The Development Director will champion the organization and work to bring its programmatic goals to life, but that is impossible if their job is walled off from the rest of the organization. From program leadership to the Board of Directors, the fundraising team needs to be kept aware of all major developments and goals. They also need to be able to confidently give feedback so planning can be matched with the necessary fundraising component.

Allow for work-life balance: We can’t get through a list like this without me getting on my favorite soapbox! Fundraising work is intense, and the risk of burnout is high. Fundraisers not only need encouragement to maintain a work-life balance; they need supervisors who manage their workload and provide support when the work gets intense. Even if all of the other pieces are in place, if you don’t provide this type of support to a Development Director, your organization is likely to fall into the fundraising burnout trap.

Hiring a Development Director is intimidating, but if done right, it can be one of an organization’s most significant steps forward. A well-trained, well-supported, and empowered Development Director can be a force multiplier unlike any other. If you do it right, this is the type of hire that can create new revenue streams and take your organization to new heights.

If you’re ready to hire a Development Director but don’t know how to start, our team of nonprofit fundraising consultants is here to help. Whether it’s recruitment, onboarding, training, or coaching, drop us a note to see how we can help.

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