The New Development Director Is Hired—Now What?
We all have to start somewhere in our careers. When I started my career as development director at the University of Louisville, I felt unprepared. I had very little guidance from a rookie boss, and I was desperately trying to feel my way.
My first day on the job was a terror for me. I was asked to attend a luncheon. I was then introduced to speak at that luncheon in front of 500 people. It would have been nice to have known I was scheduled to speak that day. When my name was announced, I almost threw up and passed out. Looking back, I wish I had a guide for how to properly adjust to my new position in a positive way.
Seth Rosen notes that he was also thrown into the fire on his first day on the job. Successful development directors are a rare breed, and being thrown headfirst into the fire is just another day in the office for us. His three-step plan to help you reduce the chaos in the first month includes: stop and assess the situation by determining priorities and do a SWOT analysis; drop balls in the air and determine what really matters; and roll with it by seeking support from others.
The Huddleston Group provides a road map to new development directors. The guide suggests that those in this role should develop a table of needs, write a case for support and prepare a business plan that looks forward for several years.
The document should be prepared with the assistance of a select group of board members, volunteers and other staff members, and reviewed by the head of the organization. At the end of the first year, the document should be used to measure your progress and build your foundation for the future. In the first 90 days, one should also review development office objectives for the year, determine database management needs, review prospect rating forms and methods, determine policies and procedures, understand the budget and have a grasp of overall job expectations.
Pamela Grow points out that the new professional must have time to review what has been done in the past. She suggests making a list of your top 10 to 20 donors. Seek to introduce yourself to them. Determine protocols on stewardship, grants and the database. Take the time to learn how the organization communicates. Introduce yourself to the entire board, key staff members and community leaders. Begin to gather your organization’s stories and determine key funding priorities. Establish tools, metrics and meetings needed to hit the ground running.
Nancy Rieves emphasizes that, in the first 100 days, the director must have one-on-one meetings with the CEO and/or the executive director of the organization that includes preparation of a detailed notebook with organizational documents. The director must also have one-on-one meetings with staff members to learn about them and the organization from their perspective.
The new director must be announced to the community, given access to the database, have the time to review donor histories, meet one-on-one with board members and speak on the phone or in person with major donors. It is imperative that the development director get out in the community, plus review development, communications and stewardship plans. For the new director to succeed, there must be an onboarding plan that provides resources and immediate introductions.
This article from The Geeky Leader can be applied to a development director role. It breaks down the first 100 days in simple terms. Before you even start the job on day one, meet with your future boss to determine the organizational mission and why you were brought on board. You need to know how the organization is doing and create an elevator speech about you and your new role. From day one to day 40, listen and understand the company and whom you work with on a daily basis. Determine performance goals for the next year. From day 41 to 100, strategize and set expectations. Develop a SWOT analysis and set your plans and tones. From day 100+, execute your plans and review the first 100 days with your boss.
Do the Word points out that the 100 days before you start your position as development director is more crucial than the 100 days. Since the average tenure for a development director is 18 months, each day on the job is precious. As a candidate, prior to accepting the director’s job, you must calibrate the expectations of those hiring you, helping them understand what is realistic and agreeing on mutually acceptable goals and expectations.
In summary, you are just hired as a development director and ready to go. Do not go into the job with a “Now What?” attitude and wait for the organization to tell you what to do. Create a plan of action for the first few months on the job. Learn as much as you can about the organization. Meet the right people internally and externally who can set you on the correct path.
Research your organization as much as possible. Listen to others but create your own opinions and perceptions. Establish a To-Do list, and remember to pace yourself every day. Seek to establish goals and objectives to get the ball rolling. Most of all, take the time to set realistic first year expectations. Keep a positive frame of mind, and be confident in your value add to the organization. Try to prepare in advance the first months on the job knowing you will have a honeymoon period. Never be afraid to ask others for help and always be you. Seek input and consistent performance feedback from your superiors. Always remember, the organization needs you as much as you need them. My hope is that you will have a long and successful career as development director!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.