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Development Dilemmas: Supervising a Development Officer

In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to info@twbfundraising.com.

This week’s question will be answered by Don Souhrada.

The Dilemma

Our organization has relied on foundation support and are now ready to build an individual giving program. I have no experience in fundraising from individuals, but in my new role as executive director, I will need to hire and supervise a development officer. What advice can you offer me, as a first-time supervisor of a fundraiser, to increase the success of our partnership?

Don’s Response

The first step in executing a successful fundraising program is to have a clear understanding of what you hope to accomplish and in what timeframe. A projection of realistic projected major gifts along with a major gift prospect pipeline must be developed to determine the organization’s fundraising potential. As executive director, you are likely the best person to identify the most promising prospects, so be prepared to play an active role shaping the major gift portfolio early in the tenure of your new hire.

Assuming your organization does have enough prospects, the next step in ensuring a successful partnership with your new development officer is to document clear goals and a timeline to achieve those goals. By having an agreed upon development plan with incremental benchmarks, you will both know if the activity is moving in a positive direction. A well-defined plan with activity benchmarks will help everyone to recognize progress even when the activity doesn’t translate quickly to booked gifts.

Open lines of communication will be essential. Give your new development officer time to meet with staff and board members and establish weekly meetings where you two discuss specific prospects and steps that have been taken to qualify, cultivate, solicit, or steward the prospects in the major gift portfolio. Establishing your fundraising program will take patience. Affirm the work of your development officer regularly if warranted, and if you have concerns, discuss them before too much time passes. You’ll want your development officer to feel an increasing level of confidence. Without honest and regular feedback, he or she could begin to lose confidence, which can lead to a breakdown of trust between you two and cause your development officer to turn to short-term activities rather than strategic action.

Your new director of development is unlikely to have established relationships with your donors, so he or she may not the best solicitor for the organization. It is essential that your new fundraiser have your support and that of an engaged board to open doors where necessary and, in many cases, execute the ask.

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