Missing Pieces

There’s a memorable scene in the 1981 movie “Reds.” It’s 1917. Warren Beatty, playing radical journalist John Reed, asks Diane Keaton, playing Louise Bryant, to accompany him on a trip to revolutionary Russia. She looks at him, pauses, and asks, “What as, Jack?” That is, as an assistant, or as a fellow journalist, or as a revolutionary, or as a girlfriend, or as a wife? “What as, Jack?”

That scene comes to mind when CEOs of small nonprofits tell me that they’re planning on hiring their first development director. They describe what they’re looking for – and the job description is, to say the least, ambitious. They want someone who can create a development plan, write grants, direct a capital campaign, direct an annual campaign, build relationships with donors, oversee and revamp their communications program, send out press releases, and run special events. And don’t forget: oversee planned giving. All in a forty-hour week, and probably without any administrative support.

If a CEO were to read me that job description and offer me the position, I think I’d ask, “What as, Jack?”

My observation is that there are great people out there who can organize your development efforts. They can run a campaign and probably also do a bang-up job running a gala dinner.

There are other people who can be effective researching and writing grants. Those same people might also be good at overseeing your communications and pumping out press releases.

There are still other people who can schmooze it up with people at parties and build close and productive relationships with donors.

Just don’t expect one person to be able to do all of these things well.

In a larger nonprofit, you can have several people filling these roles: the wordsmith/researcher becomes the grantwriter, the marketing person becomes the communications director, the schmoozer becomes the major gifts officer, and the planner becomes the development director.

But in a small shop, where there will only be one development person, you need to be careful not to expect that staff member to excel in all those areas. Even if there were enough time for one person to do everything, I’ve yet to meet someone who could carry off such a diverse set of duties with competence and confidence.

So my advice: figure out what you already have, and figure out what you need. (Not what you want, but what you need.) And hire for what you need.

If you are the CEO doing the hiring, begin by taking a good look at yourself. What are you really good at, and what do you enjoy doing? It’s important to make an honest appraisal of your likes and dislikes, because you tend to do a better job at tasks you enjoy. But do keep in mind that simply because you enjoy something, that doesn’t mean that you’re good at it. Be honest with yourself, and get people on the board and staff to help you with that self-evaluation.

Figure out, then, what is left. If you as CEO are great at connecting with donors but have neither the skill nor the inclination to organize the annual campaign or run special events, then focus on those skills for the new hire. If you are an accomplished and successful grantwriter, but you hate mixing with donors, hire someone who’s an outgoing people person.

Look at it this way: the new development director is not going to do all the development work. You’re looking for a partner. You as CEO are not off the hook for development – that would be a dereliction of duty, and it would not be good for the organization. What you’re really doing is hiring this person to carry out the parts of the development work that have gone undone, or that have been done inadequately, and to keep a focus on the overall development process. The two of you – the CEO and the development director – will be a team going forward, so you need to hire someone with complementary skills and inclinations.

One last thing: hire someone you like. Not someone like you (for all the reasons listed above), but someone you like. Bringing in that first development director provides ample opportunity for miscommunication and stepping on one another’s toes as you sort out responsibilities. You’ll want to find someone you respect and with whom you can have honest conversations about who does what.

Just don’t expect Mr. or Ms. Right to do it all. If you do, you’ll be setting that person up for failure, you’ll be disappointed, and you’ll soon have to start up a search process for your second-ever development director.

Copyright Alan Cantor 2012. All rights reserved.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 Comment. Leave new

  • It seems so true that many organizations see their new Development Directors as saviors and, to make it worse, board and staff will step back when a new development person starts rather than stepping up.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.