On Being a Development Director

Working with many different nonprofit organizations as I do, I get to see a wide range of development director jobs.  Mostly, when I read the job description or talk to the person in the job, I can only shake my head.  What are people thinking when they put these jobs together?

For most development directors in small shops, the boundaries around their responsibilities are, at best, very broken lines.  They are asked to write grants, put on major (and some minor) events including getting sponsorships, manage direct mail campaigns, and somewhere find time to raise major gifts.

That would be ridiculous enough, but add to it the fact that most of these small shop directors are also expected to track gifts and donors, write the thank you letters, do any and all prospect research, and make sure that the board is well taken care of at board meetings—meeting which they are not always invited to attend.

More than half of these development directors also have communications and marketing on their plate.  And many, if not most, end up being the go-to person for all those arcane things that happen at a nonprofit where there is no designated staffer.  I’ve seen development directors double as HR administrators, facilities managers, purchasing clerks.

When, I want to know, are they supposed to raise money?

This leads to the question of what is a development director?  What roles and responsibilities should that person be playing?

I’ve worked in and with both large and small shops. What I see as the biggest difference is that small shop development directors (and let’s be clear, you can also be a small shop within a much larger development operation) fall somewhere on the spectrum of what is described above—a very broad scope of work.

Those in larger shops tend to have the luxury of being primarily if not exclusively gift officers.  That is, they have a book of business they are focused on and within that book they are responsible for raising funds.  Or, sometimes (though more and more, large organization fundraising is heavily staff driven), for managing the fundraising of board members, CEO’s, other leaders of their organization.

So while they may have to identify, cultivate and solicit prospects—and sometimes steward donors in the spaces before those donors turn back into prospects—they are dealing with similar prospects who are cultivated in specific ways.  For example, if you are a director of major gifts, you are working with people who have been identified (or who you are identifying) as being capable of giving at or above a certain amount, and your focus is on getting yourself and perhaps a volunteer, your boss, your CEO, in front of that prospect.  And when a gift is made, while you may have to write a thank you letter or two, someone else manages the paperwork.

In the one person office, you should be so lucky.  You are flitting from one type of fundraising to another—when you even have the time to think about raising funds. And you are expected to get your board to partner in this fundraising effort—despite the fact that your board probably is not as well connected or as affluent as the boards in organizations with more established and robust development programs. This is highly inefficient and very ineffective.

All this goes back to that much talked about “culture of philanthropy” that seems absent at too many nonprofit organizations.  Rather than understanding that fundraising is central to our mission, we push it off to the side, hate the idea of it, are made uncomfortable if it is spoken about, and do everything in our power to hide it under a rock.  Hence, the one-person development office where, too often, although development gets top billing, the role it plays is truly only a bit part.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build more effective boards.  Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.com. While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter and check out upcoming classes and workshops.


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at http://courses.lmlearningstation.com/. In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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