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Three Questions to Ask Before You Take that Development Director Job

hand on curtainMost people have experienced the disappointment of starting a new job, all full of vim and vigor, only to be deflated when they find out the real story. In the fundraising world, this happens so often that the average tenure of a development director is a mere 18 months.

Let’s face it. Being a development director is hard enough. You don’t need a whole bunch of surprises undermining your chances of success and happiness.

We want you to walk into your next gig with your eyes wide open. We want you to stay, and thrive, and make the world a better place!

During the job interview process you’ll ask for data, of course. How much is coming in from what sources (including the board)? What’s the trajectory of the fundraising program? Is it in decline or on the rise? What are the big goals they want you to achieve in the next few years? And so on.

But, it’s the big picture, open ended questions that will pull back the curtain on an organization’s understanding of and commitment to philanthropy. Here are my top three:

How are fundraising goals set?

Wrong answers:

After we do our agency budget, we figure out the gap between revenue and expense and whatever it is, that’s our fundraising goal.

We take last year’s fundraising goals (whether we made them or not) and increase them by a certain percentage across the board.

Right answers:

We do zero based goal setting every year, calculating from scratch what we believe the potential is from every constituency and across all channels.

Our Development Director plays a significant role in the goal-setting process.

Why you should care:

You do not want to be in a situation where goals are set for you in an unrealistic way. There’s nothing more discouraging than failing to meet a goal that was stupid in the first place.

How are the agency’s program priorities established?

Wrong answers:

If there are grants available for a certain type of program, we apply for those grants and if we get them, then we do those programs.

Our Executive Director has zillions of ideas. She’s always coming up with new programs for us to do.

Right answers:

We have a strategic plan in place. All program decisions are made according to the direction that plan sets for us.

We have a rigorous program evaluation process that determines where client and community needs align closely with our core competencies. We only do programs that have been through a screening process to ensure we can be successful.

Why you should care:

A strategic plan and a strong program direction both make for a happy fundraiser. You don’t want to be chasing a moving target trying to raise money and build donor loyalty around random programs. And you certainly don’t want the program team looking to you to be the de facto decider of which programs get implemented based on the grants you pursue.

Who is responsible for fundraising?

Wrong answer:  The Development Director (that would be you).

Right answer:  Everyone.

Why you should care:

One of the main reasons development directors leave their jobs is that they are expected to meet fundraising goals all by themselves! Everyone at an agency holds some accountability for development. The program staff has to create a stellar product that you can sell and deliver excellence so you can provide stewardship and renew gifts. The board has to set agency direction, make personal contributions, and participate in the fundraising process. The CEO should be a front-line fundraiser, spending as much as a third of their time on direct donor relations. Make sure they know this because changing a culture might be more than you want to take on.

And here’s one more question. Don’t ask it of the agency. Ask it of yourself.

 Am I really and truly passionate about this cause?

Wrong answer: Not really, but I suppose I could learn to love it.

Right answer: I don’t understand why everyone in the world isn’t giving to this cause already! I’ll be so disappointed if I don’t get to work on behalf of this mission.

Why you should care:

Passion is nine/tenths of the law in fundraising. Find something you really care about and you’ll be sure to engage donors in exciting and meaningful ways. Which in turn means you’ll meet and surpass your fundraising goals.

Good luck with that job search and remember, good development people are hard to find.  You’re worth your weight in gold, so don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions right up front!


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