Development: A Skill, Not a Buzzword

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    A few years ago I asked: “Does your nonprofit have a Director of Development who Isn’t?” Since then, I’ve encountered organizations with “Philanthropy Coordinators,” “Fund Directors,” “Donor Managers,” and people with equally unimpressive titles – people who didn’t know the definition of “Development.”

    So many nonprofits are hiring people for all-or-part of their fundraising/development operations without knowing what to look for in candidates for those positions.

    If an organization’s CEO (or whomever is doing the searching/hiring) doesn’t understand what development is all about, how can that person hire someone who will be effective as a development officer??

    A development officer is someone who knows/understands the NPO,
    its mission, its leadership and its hopes and aspirations. He/She
    has the experience and skills to help the organization plan for
    next week, next year, and (strategically) for a number of years;
    and, he/she plays a major role in ensuring the organization’s future.

    A development officer’s primary role should not be as a fundraiser. She/he serves best, most effectively, as a planner, trainer, designer and coordinator of the various programs that comprise a development operation. There will be occasions, of course, where this person’s experience/skills/perception makes him/her the right one to ask for the gift, but not always and not often.

    This person should have input at all levels, should be able to guide/train the board members, the CEO and staff, and should be able to bring to all of them an awareness and understanding of how they affect the development process and how they can make that process more effective.

    An NPO that hires people just to fill a slot, that doesn’t hire qualified development people, puts its future at risk. If a CEO doesn’t know what to look for in a candidate, she/he should find someone who knows what to look for, and have that person help with the search. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt if that CEO were to ask for help in determining what development activities it needs and how they should be structured. That way you’ll know what to look for in a development candidate.

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