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Guest Blog: ISO a Great Development Director

by Whitney Brimfield

Lately I’ve been talking to a lot of nonprofit executives who are searching for a great Development Director. Much has been reported on the difficulty of finding a Development Director who is a good organizational fit AND has the skills and experience to get results. For a detailed analysis of the problem, refer to Underdeveloped, the seminal report on the issue published by Compass Point. Rather than focus on the challenges, I’d like to offer some suggestions to nonprofits who are about to lose their Development Director or are currently searching for one. These guidelines will help you lessen the stress while you search for a replacement, help you avoid pulling the trigger on a hire too quickly, and maintain momentum on your fundraising efforts.

Before Your Current Development Director Leaves

1) Get a relationship briefing — A good Development Director will want to be sure that all of the relationships s/he built and managed for the organization are in good hands upon their departure. Ask for a briefing about relationships, and agree together on who should take on the management of each big funding relationship in the Development Director’s absence.

2) Request an exit memo — Ask the departing Development Director to write a memo that gives a status report on all current projects, includes log in and password information for all subscriptions (like Foundation Center Online, Philanthropy.com, etc.), and explains the structure of the shared files and how to find information in the system. This memo should be accompanied by an up-to-date development calendar and a report on where the contributed revenue (including all revenue for which the Development Director is/was responsible) is compared to budget.

3) Do an exit interview — Exit interviews are an opportunity to learn from departing employees. Given the findings in Underdeveloped, these couldn’t be more critical for a Development Director position. Make use of them as a safe space where the two of you can be respectfully candid about what did and didn’t work in the relationship. Here is some guidance on exit interviews.

During Your Development Director Search

1) Consider hiring a search firm — The Development Director is a critical and high-level employee. There are several search firms that specialize in hiring for nonprofits. The value of a search firm is that they can help you understand what your needs are for the position* and how to articulate those in a compelling manner for potential candidates. They can also vet the numerous resumes you will likely receive and send you only the most qualified candidates. Search firms require management time, but they can make the hiring process more efficient.

2) Be realistic about salary — Unfortunately for nonprofits, the Development Director position is a seller’s market. People with experience and proven results can command very large salaries, often making more than the Executive Director or CEO. If, like most nonprofits, your budget is limited, you should expect to get someone who might have less experience. Beware of people with several decades of experience who are available and willing to work for a lower salary. There can be instances where a highly experienced and effective candidate is looking for a lower-profile or lower-stress job and is willing to take a lower salary. But, more often than not, you get what you pay for with fundraisers, just like everything else.

3) Get a part-time interim — If you can swing it, hire a consultant to fill in on a part-time basis to keep the trains running on time and ensure that you don’t miss any funding opportunities while you are conducting your search. Having an interim also allows you to continue your search until you find the right fit rather than rushing to fill the position and having to re-hire months later. They can also help on-board the new person once you fill the position, providing guidance based on their own expertise. Finally, one of the greatest benefits of bringing on an interim is that you will often get a higher level of experience for less money than you would if you paid that person a salary. They can assess your fundraising systems and infrastructure, offer suggestions for streamlining, and continue raising money while you conduct the search.

*NOTE: Be realistic about what you really want. If you want someone who will run the development operation (including managing the majority of the relationships and bringing in the Executive Director or CEO when necessary), then you want a Development Director or Chief Development Officer. If the Executive Director or CEO wants to be the primary relationship holder with funders, then you might not need that high-level of a staff person.

Whitney Brimfield is an experienced fundraiser who specializes in helping small to mid-sized nonprofits boost their fundraising results by filling in gaps in staff, strategy, and knowledge. Her approach is to provide tailored support based on an organization's needs, budget, and business model. During her 17+ years working in the nonprofit sector, Whitney has served as a one-person development shop at the local, state, and national level. You can learn more about her work at http://whitneymbwrites.wordpress.com.

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