Can’t find a great development director? This might by why.

Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography

Good development directors are precious.

It seems there is a great demand for good development directors. Turnover is a tremendous problem. In their study, Underdeveloped, CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund found “high levels of turnover and lengthy vacancies in development director positions throughout the sector”. I know in my community it seems like a game of musical chairs as the same pool of candidates move from job to job.

I had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago to spend an afternoon with Simone Joyaux and a group of local nonprofit consultants, thanks to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Only a few of us were fundraising consultants. One of the biggest frustrations reported by our clients is the difficulty finding someone good to lead fundraising.

As one of the people in the room who’d been there and done that, I shared my thoughts about why organizations couldn’t find a good person.

1. You won’t spend what you need to spend

Let’s start with the salary you’re offering. Too often, organizations hope to get a great person cheap. That’s just not going to happen. Or at least, it won’t happen for long.

Are you serious about building a good fundraising program? Then plan to spend. This person will lead the organization as it develops the resources you need. Don’t skimp here.

Other resources are also important. Don’t ask a professional to do the job without what she needs.1 A good donor management system. The budget for a direct response program. Staff. Even access to the organization’s resources, like mailing or email lists. (Do not make fundraising and marketing fight over those things. It’s your job to make sure they work together!)

You are making an investment. If you want a long-term return, this isn’t the time to bargain hunt.

2. You won’t give your new director the authority she needs

If you want a real professional to join your team, you will have to be sure she has all the authority she needs. Fundraising doesn’t just live in the development office. Philanthropy needs to be an organization-wide effort.

Your development director needs to be in the very top tier of management. Do not send the fundraising people off to Siberia! Your development director will need to know everything going on in the organization — because it all affects her work.

I had a run-in once with a general manager (in this case, the chief finance officer) who would not share budgets with me. Right? How do you put together a grant proposal without budgets? How do you know what resources are needed? It was purely a power play. And our leadership should have stopped that nonsense, stat.

3. You’re not willing to trust this person

Maybe you’ve been burned before and you’re feeling skittish. You need to get past that if you want a new development director to succeed.

Make sure she’s part of the most inner circle. Listen to her take on areas that seem outside her department. It’s important to understand how interconnected the entire organization is. Fundraisers understand that and can see the organization from the inside as well as the outside — as the public and donors see it.

Fundraising is both art and science. Innovation is necessary — because we’re learning more every day about why people give. Innovation doesn’t often happen out of the blue. It should be carefully planned. But it’s never without risk.

Find someone who stays on stop of the latest studies and information. Then give them room to test. If you refuse to try anything new unless it’s guaranteed, your program will rot.

And your development director will leave you.

4. You don’t really like or respect fundraising

That culture of philanthropy you hear about all the time begins here. Make sure you communicate to the rest of the organization — staff, board and volunteers — that the development director has your respect.

How well do you understand fundraising yourself? You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to understand it. Take Tom Ahern’s quiz here. How did you do?

You need to respect her decisions: focus more on major gifts or direct response? Begin a major campaign this year or build up a bigger base? Strategic decisions are what you have a real professional for. Respect her responsibility and authority. This is her area of expertise. Back her up. Disagree in private.

And respect her time. Because she took on the chief fundraising role does not mean you own her life. Don’t expect her to drop everything at 8 pm because you’ve had a great idea. And don’t complain when she’s out of the office. She should know what she needs to get done — and share that with you. But she’s entitled to carve out time for a life outside the organization.

I know of one dynamic relationship between a chief executive and a development director. She had young children. So she made a rule: she would be home every evening to read to her children before bed. If needed, she’d return to the office. But she was not available for that time every day. Her boss not only accepted that rule, he enforced it.

5. You’re looking for a savior

There are no magic fundraisers.

Your new development director should not be expected to raise her salary in the first year. She should not be expected to save the organization from near disaster by raising miraculous amounts of money.

She won’t rebuild the board in six months, either.

If there are structural problems in your organization, you need to address them. You can’t just hand them over to someone new and expect great things.

A new set of eyes — particularly experienced eyes — can be tremendously helpful. She can probably see things everyone else has missed.

But no one person can turn an entire organization around.

And please don’t assume that you’ll be able to hand off all your money worries to this new person. Every single person in your organization is responsible for resource development. Not everyone will ask for money. But everyone should be responsible for how your organization is presented to the public: by offering great customer service, being eager to talk about their work, treating volunteers well, and sharing stories that illuminate your mission.

Be sure the board doesn’t expect to wash their hands of fundraising, either. They will probably need to work even harder — first to help introduce your new director to the community, and then to support her efforts. A new development director can only succeed when she has the necessary time and support. You’re hiring a partner, not a Fairy Godmother.

Finding a great development director is a bit like developing donor relationships.

If you’re interested only in churn and burn hiring, go ahead and look for someone who’ll take the job and not ask for much. Shuffle her off to a corner of the office and ignore her until you need money. You’ll pay less upfront. But you’ll pay more in the long-run.

This position is important both internally and externally. Those donor relationships take time to build. When you oversee a revolving door, they start to wonder. And believe me, other development people know what’s going on, too. You’ll soon have a problem attracting anyone!

But if you’re interested in the long-term, you’ll see this hire as a smart investment in your organization’s future. You’ll do all you must to help her succeed. You’ll treat her like a leader of the organization and give her the time to lay a strong foundation. Then you might be able to buck the trend and keep a great person for years.

Which way do you think is smarter?

Originally published at Hands-On Fundraising, where you can find weekly articles about nonprofits and fundraising. Subscribe — it’s free!

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