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Nonprofit development director hiring and retention tips

September 18, 2020
A nonprofit development director speaks to board members at her nonprofit.

Fund development, the process of building relationships to sustain long-term fundraising, is highly important for nonprofit organizations. And it relies on successfully staffing one position: the development director. 

Your development director is your head fundraiser, so it’s in your organization's best interest to do all you can to improve their experience. When directors feel supported and valued by your organization, they’re much more likely to stay in the position for the long haul.

The best places to start creating a better experience for your development director are with your hiring practices, your organization’s infrastructure, and your nonprofit’s culture. Changes within your organization in regard to leadership style, systems, and culture can better support fundraising as well as your development director. Let's take a closer look at three tips for improving hiring and retention.

1. Be open to different types of job experience

The first step to creating a better experience for both your future development director and your organization is to improve your hiring practices. 

In terms of hiring, a common concern is not being able to find qualified applicants. You may receive applications from job seekers with no prior experience in fund development or no nonprofit experience at all. That’s okay! Instead of focusing on job titles alone, focus on searching for transferable skills and similar responsibilities. 

Stay open to a variety of types of experience. Some industries and sectors are more clearly applicable, such as: 

  • Marketing
  • Public relations
  • Corporate sales
  • Retail management
  • Grant writing
  • Event planning

However, any candidate with relevant skills and knowledge could end up being a good fit. Development directors need to be donor-centric, highly organized, and comfortable with managing people. If your nonprofit focuses on these key skills instead of specific roles or nonprofit experience, you might be able to source more qualified, applicable talent.

2. Set realistic expectations

Once you’ve updated your hiring practices, bring your attention to how your organization determines and evaluates the development director’s responsibilities. Reflect on past expectations you’ve set, then consider making the following changes to improve the role:

  • Evaluate job performance based on multiple factors that influence fundraising outcomes, such as communication and process improvements, rather than quantifiable results alone.
  • Consider the progress the development director makes in cultivating prospects and donor relationships, which lead to funds in time.
  • Set expectations that fundraising is a multi-department effort, not the responsibility of one person.

Also, be careful not to put too much pressure on your new development director by viewing them as the answer to all of your financial concerns. Your new director will be a valuable addition to your team, but improving overall fundraising results is ultimately an organization-wide effort. 

3. Provide them with ample support

To be successful, nonprofit development directors need the support of an involved executive director, board, and staff. 

Fundraising should be a priority that’s shared among everyone, since all organizational workers are aligned with your nonprofit’s purpose and the ultimate goal of raising funds to support that purpose. Every staff member should be involved in fundraising to some extent and able to communicate across departmental boundaries.

Along with emphasizing this shared priority to your team, follow these best practices to make sure your development director can be successful:

  • Define clear specifications for the role. A development director’s main responsibility should be to support and expand upon an existing fund development strategy and donor membership base. In the job description, detail how you expect them to do that.
  • Give them room to thrive. Everyone at a nonprofit wears multiple “hats” from time to time. As much as possible, however, allow your development director to fully focus on donors. Give them room to develop relationships and cultivate gifts without distraction. 
  • Provide them with adequate resources. To succeed, your new development director needs the right tools. Provide them with a quality donor management system so they can execute their responsibilities effectively.

Most importantly, establish a culture of philanthropy and support within your organization. Define principles and practices that will not only cultivate fund development, but ensure fundraising is a team effort. 

Retain your nonprofit's development director.

Fundraising directly translates into organizational success for nonprofits, and development directors are at the helm. Therefore, it’s critical that your organization hires, supports, and retains a development director. By establishing a supportive cross-departmental infrastructure, system, and culture within the organization, you can make fundraising success a priority for everyone.

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