June 19, 2014

How to Be a Fabulous Development Director

Flowers blooming in a field1. Be a Self-Starter

What does this mean?

  • When the board (or someone else you need) won’t help, find another way.
  • Treat your time as your most valuable asset. Set a goal for what you will do in the next 90 minutes. Beat the clock.
  • Use butt glue when necessary. Don’t leave your chair. Don’t check your messages. Don’t answer your phone. Don’t fidget with your pens. Make the call.
  • Learn to recognize and handle your fear. Hint: You’re scared when you avoid calling 3 new donors more than 48 hours. You’re scared if you’re waiting for the perfect moment to ask for a donation.
  • Reward your efforts, not the results. Set your standards higher than any assigned to you.
  • Measure your results. Tweak your actions. Improve by a small percentage such as .5 or 1 or 1.5 today. Repeat tomorrow.
  • Grow your self-confidence: Do something that scares you once per day. It’s important. The reward? Next year, today’s scary task will be easy.

2. Be Exceptional at Relating

What does this mean?

  • Make five contacts a day. Make two of the five to new prospects.
  • Seek one face-to-face meeting per-day with someone with the potential to provide resources to your nonprofit.
  • During interactions with others, focus on connecting and then on the agenda. After meetings ask yourself: Did we connect? How can I connect better? To be exceptional at relationships, practice daily.
  • Match your behaviors and approach to your donors or whomever you encounter.  CEO’s with fabulous development directors mention this trait frequently.
  • Manage up, manage down, and manage next to you. If people aren’t helping with the development process and fundraising; educate, motivate, and help them to succeed. You need them. Keep trying. You can’t do this alone.
  • Know when the yeast is working and you need to give it time. Know when donors need to process what you offer and own the decision to give. Ecclesiastes advises us, “There is s time to be silent and a time to speak.”
  • Excel at relationships skills. Classes in social media and writing annual appeal letters are nice but not critical. Find learning opportunities to help you master relationship fundamentals such as how to make super telephone calls, thank people, be present, and share stories.

3. Help Your Nonprofit Raise Money

What does this mean?

No matter what else you are asked to do, if your title has “Development” in it, you are expected to obtain donated income. Figure out how to do this. Make it happen.

What would you add this list? How many of these do you practice?



Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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