So, you want to be the new Development Director…

So, you would like to be the new Development Director…

Recently I both enjoyed and took part in an extended discussion on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s LinkedIn group. This discussion began by referencing the recent report by the research and consulting firm Compass Point titled ‘Under Developed’ that mentions 50% of senior fundraisers want to quit their jobs and further describes that organizational cultures which don’t value or understand philanthropy are to blame. This discussion was quite appropriately focused on the challenges in the development field and included more than a few common complaints, but with 50% of Chief Development Officers wanting out and 67% of CEO’s and executive directors transitioning each five years, effectively understanding the development professional’s perspective is a skill boards and CEO’s had better start practicing.

There was an apt image underlying many of the comments – the development officer as canary in the coal mine. From one point of view the canary points us to wider underlying conditions, giving members of the development profession the opportunity to step out of the victim role and de-personalize, but at the same time the real life canary in the unsafe coal mine first suffers and then dies!

The original post in the discussion put forward the sensible question, “OK we have all read the study now what do we do?” If you imagine yourself as an incoming/transitioning Chief Development Officer what do you need to see before you sign up? Let’s also think of the points below as points of negotiation and improvement for those Development Directors already mired in suboptimal situations. These suggestions assume that you are highly competent and knowledgeable in the field as described by Simone Joyaux in the discussion. Here is a very partial list.

1) Will I be a full member of the management team? If not this is probably the wrong place.

2) If the organization has a CFO or parallel role is the CEO clearly and actively supporting that she and I need to be sitting in the same room on a regular basis and working together based on our complementary roles? We are both engaged in capitalizing the organization. If not – red flag.

3) Will I be invited to every board meeting and presenting something at most meetings? If not this is probably the wrong place.

4) During the hiring process has the CEO offered out of herself, or responded positively and competently to my request, to specifically discuss her role in the development process, including real detail on how we will work jointly (how much time per week does she spend on fundraising, how often do she and I meet and how long are the meetings) to meet revenue goals? If not this is probably the wrong place.

5) To quote Tom Ahern from the LinkedIn discussion: “Will I have dictatorial control over donor communications?” (Again we are assuming you have the talent and experience to do this.) If not – where does the control lie – what specifically is my level of control and input. If the response is unsatisfactory or vague this is probably the wrong place.

6) Is the head of the board’s development committee and/or board chair part of my hiring process and have they provided me an opportunity to lay out what I consider the necessary conditions for successful development (as in the items above and more)in this organization? If not – serious red flag.

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