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When Should a Non-Profit Organization Hire its First Development Director? Part 1

When Should a Non-Profit Organization  Hire its First Development Director? Part 1


The short answer is sooner rather than later! If a non-profit organization is beginning to ask whether it needs a professional development director, it probably should have hired one months, even years ago.

The biggest mistake non-profits make in hiring their first development director is waiting until the board, executive director, and other key personnel have arrived at a consensus that one is needed NOW. An organization that waits until it is necessary to hire a development director has waited too long.

When I was hired as the first development director of the Cleveland Orchestra way back in 1972, it had already been in existence for 55 years and was recognized as one of the world’s great orchestras. It was also facing a $1 million deficit. I was introduced to the board as, “… a necessary evil …” brought on by that staggering deficit. The orchestra had waited until it was necessary to hire me. It should have hired its first development director years earlier when a fund-raising development professional could have worked with the board to help prevent, or to greatly reduce, that deficit.

So then, what are the universal signals—the indicators—that tell an organization it’s time to hire a professional development director? Well, the sad news is that there aren’t any. Each organization will have its own set of signals based on its culture, mission, budget, size, potential for growth, and a host of other factors. To know when to hire your first development director requires that you know your organization.

You Can’t Add, Subtract, Multiply or Divide Your Way to When to Hire a Development Director

Looking at the numbers is useful, but numbers alone will not tell an organization when to hire its first development director. It would be wonderful if a formula could be constructed out of data such as operating budget, annual deficit, personnel costs, etc., that would indicate when the balance tips toward hiring a development director.

But any non-profit organization has an enormous number of variables it must consider as it looks at fund-raising and whether it is ready for an on-staff professional to guide its efforts.

They start with the question of just how connected are the board and the process of giving and getting money.

  • Are there board members who recruit volunteer campaign leaders and solicitors?
  • When given the plans and tools, does the board carry out fund-raising campaigns in a satisfactory and successful manner?
  • Are there people on the board capable of making substantial gifts?
  • Are there people on the board willing to ask for substantial gifts?
  • Is there someone on the board capable of and willing to head a fund-raising committee?
  • Does the board understand what a development director is?

The board of directors is just the start. There are a myriad of other questions that contribute to the decision of whether or not to hire that first development director. They include:

  • What is the community’s perception of the value of the organization’s mission?
  • What is the organization’s fund-raising track record?
  • How strong is the community’s philanthropic spirit?
  • What other organizations are raising money for missions similar to the organization’s?
  • Does the organization need to institute new and larger fund-raising campaigns?
  • Is the organization thinking about changing the way it raises money—beginning telefunding or Internet fund-raising for example?
  • Are there changes in the way the organization operates that will drive expenses substantially higher?

Before an organization hires its first development director, it needs to know if there is fertile ground for that development director to plow, viable seeds to plant, and the possibility of a harvest bountiful enough to meet needs.

Knowing the answers to these and other questions helps to set the stage. Those answers not only let you see the challenges; they shine the light of knowledge on them as they pertain to the specific organization. Always, the question comes back to the particular organization, its needs, and the community it serves.

Want to take a closer look at how FundRaiser can help you answer these vital development questions? 

Give us a call at 800-880-3454 or register for an online tour

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