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  • Writer's pictureThe MSG Team


For small and medium sized nonprofits, one position that seems to rotate every few years, is the role of resource development director (RD Director). According to Bloomerang, the average tenure for a RD Director is 18 months!!!

Now think on this for a moment . . . if it takes the average RD Director about 12 months to get used to a new job, meet donors, go through all your events, etc . . . that means, on average, that leaves 6 months of knowledgeable work. 6 MONTHS!!!

Personally, I have been lucky that RD Directors lasted longer than that for me during my time in the nonprofit world, but if I were being 100% honest I would tell you that it had VERY little to do with me, and more for the fact that our staff bought into the mission of our organization. I know many of you have had great experience keeping your RD Directors for longer than 18 months, so keep in mind that we are talking about AVERAGES.

In saying that, for those who have been nonprofit execs long enough . . . is anyone really surprised by that stat when you look around your area? When we saw that number it did not shock us in the least. Why? Because this is how the process of searching for a RD Director usually goes for small and medium sized nonprofits:

1) Hey, we lost our RD Director again. We need to find a new one.

2)The next person we hire needs have experience with events, grants, donors, and planned giving.

3) Our last RD Director got paid XX, so let's try to pay that or less for the next person.

4) Our Executive Director gets paid XXX, so we need to make sure the new person does not get paid more than that.

5) So it turns out that we can't find someone to take the job for XX.

6) This person seems to have potential and not experience. Let's hire that person.

7) 18 months later . . . rinse and repeat.

How could we then be surprised by this cycle? We keep hiring people with a lack of experience, to do a job that asks for more than what the person can offer. From there two things either happen. Either our lack of patience and training forces the new hire to consider a new path OR we train that person really well, opening doors for them, so they consider a new path. Either way, their path seems to be somewhere else.

What if you thought outside of the box on your next RD Director hire? Here are two options you might want to consider when making your new hire choice:

"Takes money to take money" approach - If you are with an organization who has the funds to go out on the ledge, imagine if you hired someone with actual experience? What if you paid XXX or even XXXX or more for your next RD Director instead of your usual XX? What if that amount was able to bring in someone who actually HAS years of experience raising money with a strong background? These types of salaries are what larger nonprofits tend to pay.

What if the Executive Director put their ego aside and was willing to pay their RD Director the same or more than themselves . . . instead of capping the talent level because they don't want the salary to be higher than what they make? Sure this route is risky but look at some of the more successful RD Directors in your town (Often and hospitals and universities) and compare their salary and experience to what you are offering. What could a person like that do for YOU?

At the VERY least, maybe paying XX and a 1/2 might net you the best person among your peer sized organizations.

To be VERY VERY VERY clear . . . we are not suggesting that every RD Director reading this, should now be asking for their salary to be the same or more than their Executive Director. Pay increases are in connection with productivity and output. So there does need to be a realistic viewpoint on what that looks like for both the ED and the RD Director. Keep in mind that well paid RD Directors are well paid for a reason, based on their history of bringing in XXXXXXX dollars each year.

"Let's call it what it is" approach - For others, being able to pay a higher salary is not realistic. Many do not have oodles of money sitting in the bank, that can be used for such a risk. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as this sums up most groups we work with.

In that case, maybe it's about being more honest on your expectations. At XX dollars, you are not getting a RD Director. You're getting a Development Assistant, Development Coordinator, Marketing Assistant, Grant Writer, or maybe even an Amin Assistant.

In this scenario we are being very clear that the Executive Director is really the RD Director and the new hire fills whatever role is needed, to fill in the gaps. This is the scenario that MOST small and medium sized nonprofits have anyway, why not call it what it is?

Going this route does a few things:

- It lowers the pressure and demand on the new hire.

- It lowers the expectations from the Executive Director to a more realistic level.

- It offers a chance for the new hire to be trained properly, learning one aspect of fundraising at a time.

- It offers growth opportunities for that new hire, because as they learn more, they can then take on more. Then perhaps down the road, after 18 months, their path does not bring them to another organization . . . but instead their path is with you, as they grow from their current role INTO a RD Director which offers more responsibility and more pay.

No matter what option you try or if you just stay the same course . . . at least take a moment to talk with your leadership team to see what changes could be made with your future hire. Calling someone a RD Director while paying the salary of XX . . . often leads to unfair expectations and stress for all parties. So take the time to be fair, to be patient, and to be a mentor to whoever comes into the role.


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