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The Executive Director-Development Director Relationship

for executive directors work relationships Jun 21, 2022

     Today, we’re talking about how to approach your relationship with your development director. As I state in my book The Sustainable High ROI Fundraising System:

     “Often, the executive director-development director relationship is somewhat conflictual. This is not surprising as most nonprofit executive directors rise up through the program or, less often, the financial ranks of an agency. This means that most often, the development director and executive director have different perspectives on ensuring the agency’s financial health. Typical points of conflict between executive directors and development directors include situations when dealing with the public, managing board relationships, spending, and delegating fundraising tasks.

The Face of the Agency

     “Both executive directors and development directors interact with the community and are public figures. Both of you are building and nurturing relationships, building trust between you and who you are connecting with. Because of the strength of the relationship, sometimes it happens that a donor’s loyalty moves from the organization to the individual. If you’re not careful, the development director can become the face of the agency to important constituencies. It can also happen that you become so involved in whatever operational issues you are dealing it can overshadow your time with the community. Or the development director does not share complete information with you. Information is power. And then you get into a power struggle.

     “To prevent your development director from becoming the face of the agency, it’s crucial for you to attend important donor meetings and functions and meet regularly with your development director in both office and community settings. You want to see them in action and know that you are fully informed about the development director’s relationships. This is why, too, that your development director should report directly to you.

     “It is vital that you clearly define your level of involvement with donors early on and that you both understand how the lines of communication with important constituencies will flow. I know it can be hard, but you need to find the time to attend to fundraising matters and subtly reinforce the balance of power between you and your development director.

Board Relations

     “Because the board leadership in fundraising is crucial, your development director will interact with the board, if only to thank them for their donations. It is easy for a board member to form a relationship with the development director apart from you. Which is okay, as long as the board member does not discuss board business with the development director or triangle you into any conflict between the two. Dealing with the board is hard enough. You want to avoid as many complexities to your relationship with board members as you can.

     “Like with donor relationships, you must define roles and lines of communication up front to both your development director and the board. You may even want to develop a board-staff relationship policy that includes board and staff recruitment materials, board manuals, and employee handbooks. And then stick to the policy.

Resource Investment

     “As an executive director, you are hopefully closely managing costs and spending. Not only do you want to avoid overspending, but you also have to report on financial performance to your board, and they may question costs.

     “If net income is negative, most board members, operations officers, and finance directors think of cutting costs first. In contrast, from a fundraising perspective, you may need to spend more money. Fundraisers think an investment in development is what is needed when revenues are not meeting expectations. Obviously, you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have. But underinvestment in fundraising leads to poor financial results. And, if you want to keep your development director, you want them to have the support they need to do their job. You want to stop the fourteen-month revolving door.

     “It all comes down to planning and budgeting. It takes money to make money. For example, you need to identify, recruit, cultivate, and solicit donors before realizing their donations. You need basic infrastructure to track and report on your contributions and donor relationships you build. At the least, you need to send out tax receipts to donors at the end of the year. So, your development director is asking you to spend first while everyone else wants you to cut costs.

     “You must plan and budget to invest in fundraising to realize the kind of financial success you want. And you have to communicate your plans throughout the organization so that everyone knows what to expect. Which means you engage in strategic planning. And that your development director creates the development plan based on the strategic plan. And that you and your development director budget well, both on the macro and micro level. And manage the budgets so that you do, in fact, realize positive net income. That’s a goal everyone buys into.

Transactional and Relational Processes

     “Fundraising can be looked at as a series of transactions. You ask for money, the donor gives a gift, the gift is recorded, the donor gets a thank-you letter with the standard tax-deductible language (except for donations from donor-advised funds). That’s the process your finance officer sees, and probably your chief operating officer, too. Sometimes even board members. After all, it’s all about getting the money, isn’t it?

     No. It’s not all about getting the money. It’s about building a relationship with people motivated by your nonprofit’s mission and showing them how they can participate in fulfilling that mission through a financial donation.

     “This difference in understanding what fundraising is and isn’t leads to conflicting thoughts on what job tasks are required to meet the overall financial goal. One focuses on the process of realizing a donation. The other emphasizes the importance of building strong connections with donors. So, the pressure is on you to make the transactions happen, and your fundraiser is talking about footing an expensive lunch meeting. Think about the implications of these differences in how your development director wants to write the annual appeal, annual report, website content, or promotional materials. If you and your development director are not on the same page, it’s a recipe for frustration.

Living with the Divergence

     “Because of the inherent tension between the perspectives of an executive director and development director and the pressures you both face, as a result, you need to be in constant communication and establish mutual trust. Let your development director know what you want and expect from the relationship. In turn, ask your development director what they want and expect. And make it easy for your development director to trust you. Treat them as the professionals they are. Understand how their approaches are different than yours. Expect differences and treat disagreements as part of the necessary course of business. Respect their opinions. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts. Listen to their fears and frustrations. They are likely to respond in kind.”

Next Steps

      Learn other ways you can work with your development director to raise more money. Get your copy of The Sustainable High ROI Fundraising System by clicking here.

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