How to Hire Good Development Staff

This week, I give you excerpts from my book The Sustainable High ROI Fundraising System to guide you in hiring fundraising staff.  

The Development Director’s Role

“A development director is a fundraising generalist with skills and experience in a wide variety of revenue generation activities. A development director oversees all of your fundraising. Their duties include managing donor relationships, interacting with donors to encourage giving, writing and submitting grant proposals, seeking out sponsorships, and executing fundraising events. You need to hire a development director if your nonprofit maintains a varied revenue mix and you want to hire a generalist who knows a little about everything.”

When to Hire a Development Director

Look to hire a development director when all the fundraising responsibilities become too much for you or you are inexperienced in fundraising. You always have the option of hiring part-time. When your budget is small, you may want to consider securing a development consultant who can create a case for support, outline a development plan, and provide you with the training you need to implement their plans.

What to Look For in a Development Professional

“When you are looking for fundraising staff, look for personable people who have:

  • Passion for your mission
  • Integrity and engender trust
  • Excellent interpersonal and social skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Determination, perseverance, and resilience
  • Creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

In your interview process, don’t be bowled over by big numbers. Ask what those numbers represent—gross or net revenues. In addition to dollars raised, ask about donor acquisition and retention. And determine trends. You want to see if their results are consistent over time. We spoke about the importance of implementing smart fundraising and financial measures in Chapter Seven. The most important fundraising evaluation metrics and how to calculate them are listed in Appendix B.”

Hiring an Enlightened Generalist

“As your organization grows, instead of hiring traditional fundraising specialists, I recommend hiring higher-level fundraising generalists. In his book Personalized Philanthropy: Crash the Fundraising Matrix, Steven Meyers calls these fundraisers enlightened generalists. Enlighted generalists are fundraisers who are trained and experienced in all avenues donors use to bestow gifts. They do not specialize in any one method. Build a team with similar skills and complementary strengths around your donors’ needs, not your fundraising methods.

By centering your efforts around building relationships, you ensure that your development staff is taking care of total donor needs. For example, in a traditional office, I have seen potentially big donors asked for small gifts or two different types of fundraisers approaching donors with conflicting asks. Structuring your fundraising staff around the donor avoids embarrassing situations like these, lessening your risk of losing donors and their gifts.

Most small to mid-sized nonprofits automatically default to hiring a generalist. But then they build toward specialization, not realizing the focus of their fundraising program moves from centering around donor relationships to implementing processes. An emphasis on specialized skills silos your staff and creates a disjointed donor experience. When staff are siloed, communication and teamwork can suffer. I see this happen often at larger organizations.

Although your individual salary costs may be more, your overall salary costs are lower. That’s because you are using resources more efficiently. Putting the onus on generalist fundraisers to meet total donor needs enables you to build relationships with more donors with less resource investment. And providing professional development opportunities to sharpen skills cost less than hiring for a new position.”

Next Steps

The Sustainable High ROI Fundraising System is chocked full of tips like this that save you time and money. Not only do we talk about staffing, we also cover how to realize the biggest bank for your buck in planning, marketing, and working with your board.

Find out more and order your copy by clicking here.


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