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Allison Gauss
development director

5 Ways to Keep Your Development Director Happy

The workplace is always more productive and enjoyable when employees support each other and help each other succeed. At nonprofit organizations, however, different departments don’t always work together as well as they should. Programs or marketing, for example, may not spend much time working with the development department. While it may seem simpler to just stick to your own focus, bridging the gap between development and other areas of a social impact organization will ultimately benefit everyone.

There are some simple actions you can take to help your development staff help you. From the executive director down to the newest interns, a nonprofit’s employees must give development the resources, information, and support they need to drive the organization’s mission.

Here are five ways to work with development directors and departments that will help them succeed and keep your organization solvent and strong.

1. Evaluate on ROI, Not Expense

One of the biggest hindrances to nonprofit fundraising is the hesitation to devote resources to it. A development professional’s goal is obviously to raise money, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to invest capital to get there. It’s a cliché, but one worth repeating: you have to spend money to make money.

The budget for development should be evaluated based on the return on investment, not the sheer cost of initiatives. If the development department wants to invest in a new program or tool, the decision must take into account the potential financial return. Saying “no” to the right event or campaign could mean missing out on a wildly profitable outcome.

2. Allow Budget Flexibility

Beyond simply funding development’s projects, consider giving the department some flexibility in how they use their budget. While it’s smart to plan based on expected costs, some unrestricted funding allows your development director to allocate more resources to the fundraising initiatives that are working.

For example, if the development director observes that their new recurring giving program is performing very well, it would make sense to spend more resources promoting it. If the rest of the budget is tightly restricted, however, they won’t be able to push this campaign to its full potential. They may be forced to spend resources on a fundraising initiative that isn’t nearly as effective. Trust your development department by giving them the freedom to invest in campaigns and strategies that are succeeding.

3. Document All Donor Interactions

Your development staff members need to know everything they can about your donors. After all, their goal is to attract, steward, and retain them. For development staff to do this, they need to have both a plan and the ability to implement it. To make sure each donor is being moved toward the next level of engagement, nonprofit employees should report to development when they interact with donors.

Let’s say your programs manager is talking to an existing donor, who mentions their business is looking to get involved in the community’s social sector. This is a great opportunity for your organization to forge a sponsorship or partnership, but only if development is informed that the opportunity is there. The programs manager might say, “That would be great! We’d love to work with your business!” but this chance can easily slip away if the employee doesn’t notify development or just assumes the donor will pursue it on their own. If the development director is told, however, he or she can immediately follow up and move the relationship forward.

4. Prioritize Development Communications

As the previous strategy suggests, having an open line of communication with development is key. Development professionals need to pull information from all corners of a nonprofit to fundraise. Marketing, for example, can tell development how they will be promoting the organization in coming months. Development can then create appeals that fit into this theme.

Meanwhile, fundraising today relies heavily on proving your organization’s impact, which means development needs updates, content, and stories from the programs staff. Donors are touched by individual stories and want to see the results of their gift, and development needs to communicate with programs to deliver.

Whether you’re in marketing, programs, or another department, you should have regular check-ins with development to make sure you are doing your part to fund your nonprofit. And when development asks for impact evidence, it should not fall to the wayside. Nonprofit fundraisers can only provide for their organizations if they have insights into your work.

5. Think Like a Development Officer

Ultimately, if your development department fails, the entire organization fails. Without revenue, there are no programs for your constituents and no paychecks for employees. Development is everyone’s concern. Whatever your role, consider how you contribute to fundraising efforts and brainstorm ways you could be more helpful.

To get started, think about how you can…

  • Get more donors interested in your organization
  • Refer and recruit people for fundraising campaigns (including peer-to-peer)
  • Provide evidence and stories that will inspire supporters to give

In your regular meetings with development, discuss your ideas and find out what you can do to support fundraising efforts.

Development professionals are the back bone of lasting, impactful nonprofit organizations. While their work may seem removed from other departments, information and support from everyone is necessary for fundraising professionals to do their job. Remember that you are on the same team, working towards the same impact. Staying in sync with your development department will benefit everyone.


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