How To keep A Development Director More Than 18 Months

Fundraising campaign management / By Mike Crum

The average Development Director (person who heads up fundraising for a Nonprofit) is 1.5 years. Just think of your sunk cost – you’ve gone through all that time and trouble with your search committee and interviews, conducted training and onboarding, and then they’re gone in 18 months? This post will cover a few key things related to keeping your Development Director on board, invested, and there for the long term (or at least five years!).

Be Candidly Constructive When Hiring a Development Director

Often newly hired Development Directors are ‘surprised’ when they join a Nonprofit and find out they’ve got to do quite a bit of defense before they can go on offense. That is, there are emergent issues they have to address immediately before they can truly begin raising money.

For example, several decades ago I was hired as a Development Director and on my first day at work I found out we had – wait for it – three weeks of reserves! A board member was writing checks to cover payroll, but it was only a matter of time before that stopped. I had envisioned having the opportunity to get a lay of the land, figure out where the bathrooms were in the office, etc., but instead had to address this huge issue, and fast.

It’s important to provide as accurate a picture of the fundraising program and results as possible during the interview process. This is particularly true when a candidate asks, “What are some of the fundraising challenges facing the Nonprofit?” In my case it would have been nice to hear, “Oh, we’re screwed, but that’s where you come in!” Many Development Directors leave jobs  because they weren’t told the whole story of what they were getting into. 

Ensure Your Board is 100% Giving

It’s amazing that this is still an issue, but almost every Nonprofit I work with has board members who aren’t making a gift. Most recently, I worked with a board and one of the board members had a lot to say and contribute in board meetings, but she never contributed by making a gift over three years. Hello McFly! There’s just no excuse. Board Chairs and -/- or Executive Directors have to ensure the board is 100% giving.

This might seem symbolic, and in some ways it is, but your Development Director needs a board that’s invested. Ideally, you want to use the words “personally significant financial donation”. In order to ask for money you need to be invested – and Nonprofit boards are not a hobby – they’re serious business. Make sure when you recruit board members they know they have to donate. Seems like this shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s vital!

A Functioning Fundraising Committee

A functioning Fundraising Committee composed of board members and fundraising volunteers is a huge asset for a Development Director. No matter how hard a Development Director works, they don’t have the power that a peer has when fundraising. Peer-to-peer fundraising wins the campaign and raises the most money, and a Fundraising Committee makes peer-to-peer fundraising happen.

An Integrated CRM

Your Development Director needs a robust CRM so they can capture gifts, plot strategy, run reports, and capture institutional memory. Moreover, you want them raising money for the Nonprofit – not spending hours each week cutting and pasting data from different software systems into Excel. They need access to data that’s actionable and accurate, and if your system is crap – your data is crap too.

This doesn’t mean you go and buy the most expensive CRM there is – in fact, that’s almost as bad as not having a system. Too many CRM, ironically the expensive ones with market share, are built on sloppy code and have paid ransom to get ‘control’ of their data (which is YOUR data!).

You want to stop living in Excel and start living in integration. The average Nonprofit uses 20+ software programs, so look for an integrated software that has modules where all your fundraising is under one roof. From events, to your CRM, to major donors, to peer-to-peer giving – having one integrated system not only boosts your fundraising results – it bolsters your Development Director’s morale. They’re able to focus on higher payoff activities, instead of double data entry, and this means their morale is much higher too.

These are just a few items to pay attention to when you’re hiring a Development Director and want to ensure they stay on board for more than the industry average of 18 months. Not only will you Nonprofit retain staff, but your fundraising efforts will dramatically improve as well.


Mike Crum

Subject Matter Expert

Mike is a recognized expert, thought leader, advisor and speaker in the Nonprofit world. Over the past four decades, Mike served as an Executive Director, COO, see more

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