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Hiring a Great Development Director

By John Flynn, Vice President of Philanthropy
Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)


Good development people are hard to come by. Great development people are even tougher to find. We often talk to leaders who are quick to share their true feelings about their experience of hiring a Development Director. Those conversations commonly begin with statements such as these:

• “We hired a development director, now we can get back to our real jobs.”

• “We hired a development director, but he/she didn’t even raise her own salary the first year so we let him/her go.”
• “Development people expect you to do their jobs for them. It isn’t my job go out and visit with people about making gifts.”


When working in the Church or a small non-profit, we expect to find that ideal candidate that will raise all the money required to balance the budget, work long hours with little recognition and get compensated nominally for their effort. We can’t expect to find – and keep – quality development staff with expectations such as these.


Instead, we want to focus on finding the best person for leading the development office. Remember, this person is a catalyst, motivator and guide for the development program; he or she is not the development program!


Let’s begin with considering the activities of a great Development Director. The primary responsibilities fall into the following categories:


Planning and Prioritizing

The Development Director keeps the long-range planning process moving forward to make sure key programs and activities are appropriately funded. It is important for the Development Director to be informed about the programs, needs and plans of the organization, including: curriculum/staffing needs, public relations/recruitment, ministry and spirituality services, buildings and grounds, finance, and individual development efforts. There must be close coordination with the Director on updating and revising any long-range plans for the organization.


Conceptualizing and Implementing a Development Plan

All successful organizations have a written plan that directs the development efforts of the organization. In this plan, the Development Director will prioritize activities and strategies, seek support of others, particularly from the Volunteer Council and Director, and involve staff members and volunteers as necessary and appropriate. A great Development Director will take the initiative and get it done!


Building a Leadership Council

A key to success in any development program is a Volunteer Council that is both invested and actively involved in the fund-raising aspects of the organization. A successful Development Director helps the administration recruit and build that group of prominent individuals, and often times recruit a chairman for the committee. Also, the Development Director will train and mentor members for assisting in the solicitation process.


Cultivating Relationships

The Development Director is responsible for encouraging authentic relationships with benefactors on behalf of the organization. A good Development Director will be attentive to opportunities to connect and engage with existing and potential donors. At times that may require that the Development Director enlist the director or a staff member or a Volunteer Council member to facilitate or cultivate that relationship. It is not uncommon for great officers to take the initiative in the calling process, actually setting appointments for the Director or a Volunteer Council member to accompany the officer to present gift options to major gift prospects.


Identifying, Investing and Involving Major Gift Prospects

Good development directors understand that major gift benefactors are most generous to those with whom there is a relationship, coupled with an interest and passion for the mission of the organization. An effective Development Director will identify, research and connect potential benefactors with the program or ministry that will peak their interest, such as music ministry, a mission trip or a lecture series.


Commitment to Professional Growth

Making time for professional development and relationships is extremely important. A successful development professional maintains an openness to learning new skills, strategies and resources that will make him or her more effective as a professional.


Finally, there are some essential characteristics of a Development Director that should be considered when hiring the best person possible to lead the development efforts of your organization, including:

• A strong spiritual life and a sense of integrity
• Commitment to the job, the institution and its mission
• Knowledgeable of the institution and its goals, objectives and plans.
• Exceptionally strong verbal and written skills
• A “people person” who enjoys “service” to others as a priority item
• A self-starter who is action-oriented and can get things done
• One who can lead, direct and influence others without controversy and/or confrontation
• An authentic team player that is not easily threatened
• One who can share ownership of projects with many, many people
• One who empowers and invites others to succeed
• A person not afraid to make calls, both successful and unsuccessful and has “a tough hide” and thick skin
• Is able to work long hours in frequent stretches, robust health
• The ability to make more work for others
• One who adopts the attitude that a “no” is a slow “yes”


Be assured that there are many great Development Directors working tirelessly on behalf of others. If you are a Director fortunate enough to have one of the great ones, take a moment to appreciate their hard work. If you want to hire a Development Director, don’t settle for anything but the best.


John Flynn is co-founder of Petrus Development and serves on our Board of Directors. John is currently the Vice President of Philanthropy for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and the Principal for Domus Development Group. John lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and four children.


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