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  • Writer's pictureThe MSG Team


At Midwest Studies Group (MSG) we get the grand opportunity to work with so many nonprofits all over the country. One question/comment we hear on a consistent basis is . . . how should I use our development director/my development director is not doing what we need them to.

This is a subject we have talked about in the past but one that is so important we feel that it is worth revisiting again. Although we have given a variety of suggestions on how to make that Executive Director/Development Director relationship strong, we want to break things down into three simple steps so you don't set yourself up for a rollercoaster relationship.

THE EXPECTATIONS - This is the step where most organizations start to ask us for feedback. The two things we ALWAYS want to know is what do you want this person to do and what are you willing to pay. Is this person going to write grants? Visit donors? Keep track of donations and back office type work? Focus on marketing? Most of the time when we talk to organizations, the Executive Director wants the person who can do all of that work. LITERALLY . . . possessing ALL of those skills. Toss in the fact that the average Development Director makes $40k - $50k and are those expectations fair? This is what we would suggest. Think about you and your other key staff members and see what's missing and/or what you need help with. If you need someone who is better at writing grants, then focus on that. If you need someone who is experienced at meeting donors, then focus on that. Write a job description that is fair and matches the salary you are willing to pay.

THE HIRING - This is the next area where organizations make their next big mistake. They hire the wrong type of person. First it comes down to checking their background and successes and not just taking people at their word during an interview.

It also comes down to personality as well People who talk to donors often have different personalities than those who are good at grant writing and stat keeping. Those who create marketing materials sometimes have a different personality than those who like to cold call. Plus, let's not forget to share with them your goals and expectations before they take the job. Of course we are not suggesting you should pigeon hole people into certain categories. What we are suggesting is that you should resist saying to yourself . . . we can train/change that person, if you don't REALLY have the time to train that person in something they are new or uncomfortable with.

Too many times we hear about Executive Directors saying all the right things at the start, only to lost patience after JUST a month or two because their new hire "is not bringing money in".

THE CONVERSATIONS - Whether you are hiring someone new or if you already have someone as your development position, it is important that you have check-in meetings with that person to make sure you are on the same page. What trainings are needed, what deadlines are coming up, what mentoring could be done, are goals realistic, what could the Executive Director do to help better prepare the Development Director, what expectations are not being met that need focus on . . . there is plenty to talk about. For some it means meeting together monthly, others weekly, and some even check in at the start of each day. Do whatever works best for you. Making sure you are rowing towards the same goal will make an impact in your team success as well as your relationship building.

To close, it's a reality that no matter what you do, there is never a guarantee that the Executive Director/Development Director relationship will work out. However, doing these suggestions will help increase the chances and helps to ensure that the Executive Director is doing all they can to help put their staff in a winning position.


Midwest Studies Group connects nonprofits to their communities, by providing feasibility studies, annual giving studies, RD planning, strategic planning, and capital campaign support. Learn more at

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