Hiring a Development Director

February 12, 2013

Last week, I had another inspiring yet challenging experience at Praxis in Los Angeles. We experienced three packed days of strategic conversations with leading experts in our field.

One of my goals for this year is to hire a development director to join our team. So, I asked all of these experienced leaders about how to do this well. The general consensus is that this is the hardest hire in a non-profit organization. I have recently witnessed other organizations struggle with staffing this position. Obviously, I haven’t actually hired a development director yet, so the principles below are simply an aggregation of counsel that I received at Praxis.

I recognize that some of these principles are up for debate, and I would welcome you to challenge these ideas if you have had a different experience.

1.   Look for someone who has stayed in previous development roles for 3+ years

The average development director changes jobs every 18 mos. You cannot afford to have someone jump ship after you have invested the time and money in recruiting and training them. Not to mention the uneasiness that your investors will feel. If someone has shown a tendency to change jobs every couple years, be very wary of that hire. They will try to convince you that this is the right opportunity they have been looking for. Don’t buy it… remember, they are good at selling ideas!


2.   Good salesmen do NOT necessarily equal good development directors

While good development officers do share much in common with good salesmen, they rarely translate as you might expect. If they are going to be successful, they must understand the organization’s value proposition very well.

3.   Accept that you will bat about 0.500 with development directors

One organization at Praxis had very in depth and costly evaluation process that all their new development officers had to undergo. The organization currently staffs 26 full-time fundraisers. Over the years, they have only kept about half the development people they hired. While I believe your first response should be to help develop the person and leverage their strengths, we cannot afford to keep a bad hire for too long. Once you realize that they aren’t going to produce the results you desire, you need to let them go.

4.   Measure activity, at first, not outcomes

While you should expect a good development director to produce some financial results in the first year, it is more important to measure their activity. This will allow them to demonstrate their drive and ambition.  that If they aren’t producing financial results, you can at least be sure that they are doing the work. One organization at Praxis said that they required at least 7 in-person meetings per week.

5.   Interview is critical

As with any position, the interview process is critical. Here are some recommendations when hiring this development officer:

– Ask him or her to write down the initials (not names) of prospective donors that they know. Then, ask them to rate them based on giving potential and how well they know them. Having this list will help you hold them accountable when they start fundraising.

– Ask them to give you a pitch during the interview. See how well they understand the value proposition of the organization. Tell them “no” after the pitch to see how they handle it.

– Allow room for silence in the interview. The candidate will fill the space and you will learn a lot.

Please share your own thoughts regarding hiring a development director. Are there any of these premises that you would challenge?