Do I need a Development Director?

I’ve been thinking about ways to talk about some of the real-life client examples that I think could benefit a bigger audience. One of the ways I’ve characterized my work is by flagging a FB post “ONE GRANT TO LIVE.”

Going forward, I’ll post some scenarios under this moniker, and hope they’ll be helpful to you as you journey towards a sustainable organizational future!

Today, as the fiscal year winds down, I’ve been fielding no fewer than three requests this week for support for folks looking for a development director for their small shops. I firmly believe that each case is different, and I do handle each call with a certain level of individuality, however, I believe I have come to a stance: Do not just hire one person for a department. Hire two.  Why hire one when you can make room for two?

Do I need a Development Director?

In my years in the non-profit field, I have accepted “Director” or “Associate Director” (with no Director in place) level programmatic of fundraising positions four times. Two of those four times I was understaffed, which is to say: I was the only paid person in my department.

Solo journey

As Programs Director for a youth development organization, I had a caseload of approximately 174 individuals upon hiring, with an understanding that, because they were Alumni of the organization (though college students–it was confusing), my caseload would grow exponentially. Every summer I’d add to my roster the new list of 20-30 college-aged students to my program, and would have to scale up my services.

Before I could argue my case (under completely new organizational leadership) that I needed another paid position on my team at the minimum, I worked into my model ways to scale my programmatic offerings by utilizing a mentorship model. I would train mentors to go out into the field and have a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio to younger students. They would do check-ins and report to me, and we’d trouble shoot for how the organization might support. When I left the caseload was something like almost 260 students. It was the only way I could feasibly hit my benchmarks if the organization was not going to invest in personnel. I would go on to transition to Associate Director of Development, with some team members, and then later out of youth development programs all together, but that lesson came with me.

The other time I was a sole person in a department was also the first time I was a full Director of Development for a cultural institution. In order to pay me what I felt I deserved, the organization stretched its limits, and we could argue paid me what I asked for. But I would be alone. Again. I felt so sure in the move, and they had given me what I asked for, that I agreed and took the job.

Immediately I understood that the job was bigger than one person alone, and leadership needed more support than usual in general and individual fundraising. I leaned on my model of creating volunteer opportunities and inviting individuals to get closer to the mission through service to the organization. I started a working young patron’s group, which was a melding of traditional giving groups and alumni-type working models. The group, if they paid their yearly dues, had ownership over four events a year, and I had, once the group got up to 20 or so individuals from across sectors and backgrounds, 20 microphones to amplify events!

Additionally, I made a plea to my network for an intern and the universe sent me someone who was a few months out of college, but not quite sure what she wanted to do. My own mentorship gene is strong, and when she came to interview I knew we’d hit it off. I now had someone to help with data entry, start grants, coordinate some cultivation events, and more. I was not alone, even though, I was alone.

Help! My Director of Development just left!

Let’s assume you got away with paying your Development Director less than $60K, (I hear you small orgs! I do!) but it’s a new world and anyone looking to be a Development Director in this environment is junior themselves, probably at a larger institution, and probably in a specific track. What I mean is they are probably an Institutional Giving Manager, or an Individual Giving Manager, and want so badly to have Director in the title, and a few more coins that they would give up being a part of a team for it. I did it. I know.

When clients come to me and feel as though they are just now ready to invest in a development position, or as a result of a single-person department no longer has an organizational fundraising mechanism, I speak from experience when I strongly advise them to split whatever it was they were going to pay for one person, and pay two junior people.

I’ll say it again: If you have $60,000 for what you paid your Development Director, and he or she just left, add a little more to the pot (because Development Directors should and do cost more than that!), and let’s call it $70,000 you were going to try and squeeze out of your current budget or else make an assumption that the Director would “raise their salary,” for what the kids are asking for in salaries these days, and split it into two positions.

Get you a Development Department!

Fundraising is a team effort. When I was solo in my positions, somehow, because my title was “Director” that signaled, I think, to leadership (ED and Board) that there was someone to do the fundraising. That they could step back. They had someone who would (supposedly) write the grants, plan the cultivations, send the appeals, write the emails, set up the major gifts meetings, and maybe all they had to do was show up, maybe. How many times was I asked “Do I need to be here” by people in positions higher than me?! Foolishly, and because I wanted to seem capable, I said no, I could handle it. Only to find the donor wanted face time with the Executive Director. No major decision was ever made with me and me alone.

Hiring two people, say, a grant writer, and a development assistant, means that for small-shop organizations you have “specializations” similar to the big shops. You have people focusing in on a specialty, and minimally—because you probably can’t pay two full time salaries, but you could pay strong part-time salaries—pushing towards a few important benchmarks. This distributes the stress of the department between two people instead of one. I still advocate for some of the volunteer models, too! So just imagine how many people you can have moving the fundraising goals of the organization further down the field?

But who will do the fundraising, DéLana?

Glad you asked! By taking away the “Director” title, that requires the Executive Director to lean in a bit more, and by nature, ask his or her board for support. “Hey, can you meet with xyz major donor if [new development assistant] sets it up?” That type of thing.

If you are a leader who’s come through the ranks up to ED through programs (or for another client, a curator all her life and now has to think about fundraising! Or for another client, a programs coordinator / director and never had to think about from whence the money came), and you feel like you need to hire a Development Director because you need guidance, and an expertise on your team, well, let’s talk

I have two clients using this model now, and I am coaching and supporting everyone towards the organizations’ fundraising goals, and the organization has a team, and the ED understands her role in fundraising (“I can focus like 75% of my time on Fundraising!” If you could have heard the little squeal my heart made when she said this), and she can also, from a place of knowing and understanding, call on her board to step up and step in. And we are growing a development team that fits the needs of the organization. And each week the team reports on how much more work they have been able to accomplish. 

It’s a cute set up. I encourage you to give it a try!