I often hear nonprofit development directors longing for an executive director to be a partner in the fundraising process. Instead, many executive directors think when they hire a good development director they don’t have to spend time fundraising themselves.

Boards routinely think the same way, but actually, it’s just the opposite.

A good development director is like an orchestra conductor, bringing out the best in each team member to achieve a common goal. For orchestra conductors the goal is beautiful music; for development directors it’s generous donations.

But the point is it has to be a team to be successful. Good fundraising is not a one person show.

Dive into a team approach to your fundraising.

A good fundraising team will have four members at a minimum. Development director, executive director, board chair and development committee chair. Development support staff and board members round out the team.

Teams will look different depending on the size and scope of the organization, but each team member has their own specific role including the folloing:

» Identifying prospective donors

» Educating and cultivating donors

» Advocating for the nonprofit within the community

» Asking for support from donors

» Recognizing all donor contributions

» Deepening donor commitment by engaging donors in the mission

With a competent development executive directing overall fundraising efforts, an engaged executive director developing donor relationships and a committed board cultivating donors and advocating in the community, an organization will find fundraising to be fun and rewarding. If any of those components are missing or insufficient, expect an uphill struggle.

It starts with the hiring process.

To avoid the revolving-door development position conundrum, the executive director starts by making a list of clear, realistic expectations. Too often development directors are hired only to be surprised by impossible expectations.

Executive directors should carefully evaluate the role they expect to play in development, the specific performance expectations they have of a development director and what they will do every day to nurture a thriving partnership with their development director.

The executive director’s role is critical to fundraising success. She should plan to spend at least 50 percent of her time engaged in nurturing relationships with donors to undergird the fundraising process. Because the executive director and development director must work closely together as a team, it’s critical to choose a harmonious match.

Most donors want to see the executive director, not the development director. Better yet, a board member. Development executives focus on identification, preparation and facilitation; whereas executive directors and board members spend time on cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of donors.

“If the executive director is uncomfortable asking for money or does not understand the long-term nature of fundraising, your job will vary from difficult to miserable,” fundraising expert Kim Klein warns development directors. Through good planning and prospecting, effective development directors create more opportunities for executive directors to fundraise.

So the better this partnership works, the more time executive directors can expect to spend fundraising. And, of course, that results in more support for the mission.

Think long term when tracking ROI results for development directors.

Nonprofit Quarterly advises the investment in a strong development director should produce an excellent return. But defining return on investment is critical. First, in your calculations of ROI, include more than annual amounts raised.

While dollars are the most obvious metric, also consider the value added by a good development director in training and mentoring less-experienced fundraisers on staff and board; in setting up systems that effectively track, thank and engage donors; and, in many cases, in serving on the organization’s senior-management team.

In short, don’t hire and evaluate a development director as though her only value is represented by total dollars raised.

Understanding your fundraising investment and ROI is a critical executive responsibility. The executive director and development director who work together to make meaning of their development data will be a more focused and effective fundraising team.

Board members play a critical role.

One of the greatest frustrations for development directors and executive directors alike is a board that doesn’t like fundraising, or worse yet doesn’t think it’s their job to raise money for the organization.

Successful fund development requires a culture of philanthropy at every level of the organization, beginning with the board.

Whose job is it to create the expectations for board fundraising? Not the development director. The executive director and board chair work as a team to inspire board members to actively engage in donor relations.

Certainly, through excellent planning and coordination of effort, an effective development director can and should increase the fundraising impact of your board, but she cannot reset fundamental board expectations for fundraising.

Governance expert Jan Masaoka says that simply hiring a development director does not resolve the “cycle of finger pointing” that plagues many board-executive director relationships in fundraising.

An experienced development director may be an effective coach for an executive who wants to shift her board’s fundraising culture so long as the executive and board leadership take clear responsibility for doing so.

Develop an individual fundraising plan for each board member to keep them engaged.

The most effective development directors work with board members to develop a personalized fundraising agreement. To do this, work individually with each board member to adapt a plan to the board member’s preferences, limitations and timing. A sample agreement might include these five elements:

» I will give $100 each month for the next year using automatic deductions from a credit card or bank account for a total annual gift of $1,200.

» In November, I will mail holiday letters asking friends and family to make contributions to the organization instead of sending gifts I don’t need. I will send at least 10 such letters with a goal of receiving at least $500.

» I will proactively discuss the mission with at least one person or group every month for the next year. My goal will be to educate key community members about the good work of this organization and to gain their support.

» I will join staff on five major donor visits between January and March. I will do my best to identify prospects and cultivate them prior to the visit. I hope at least two people will give — one at $500 and another at $1,000.

» I will make three thank you calls to donors each month.

Be creative. Devise a long list of options the board member can choose from. The plan will be different for each board member and will serve to focus attention on their fundraising role.

Asking board members to report regularly on their progress at board meetings will further develop a culture of philanthropy and help board members feel part of the organization’s fundraising success.

Ride the road to success.

Finding and keeping a good development director is not easy, but effective partnerships between executive directors and development directors come about when both sides take responsibility for making the partnership work.

Without clear expectations and directives, a new development director can easily fall short of an organization’s needs and expectations for fundraising.

But armed with clear goals, agreed-upon time frames for those goals and an understanding of how an executive director wants the goals achieved, an incoming development director can get up to speed and deliver on the need that brought her to the position in the first place: the need for solid fundraising. For executive directors, clear expectations are the key to great expectations.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or cynder@nonprofitkinect.org. The opinions expressed are her own.

Cynder Sinclair

Cynder Sinclair, Noozhawk Columnist

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or cynder@nonprofitkinect.org. The opinions expressed are her own.