By the time your first 100 days as a development director start, it’s too late

I was pleased to see Pamela Grow addressing Your First 100 Days As Development Director–great topic and a well-done post, though I would likely lay out a somewhat different agenda.

The main point I would make in regard to Pamela’s post is this, however:

There is one more set of 100 days even more crucial than your first 100 days as Development Director; namely, the 100 days before you take the job.

As Janet Levine notes in her excellent post, How (Not) To Hire A Fundraiser, the average tenure of a fundraiser is eighteen months. Why so short? Because individuals candidating for fundraising jobs do nothing to dispel the almost comically unreasonable expectations of the organizations that are considering hiring them. Writes Janet:

I once was asked in great detail—several questions in fact—what I would do in my first 90 days to connect with current major donors. Not a bad question except this particular organization had no current major donors. They had no individual donors at all. They had been largely federally funded and wanted to change that. The questions they should have asked me would have focused on how would I begin to identify major donors and what would I do—if I would do anything—to build an annual giving program.

She summarizes the problem nicely:

Too many nonprofits hire a development director and then expect that person to log in the gifts, send out thank you letters, manage the annual gala and the golf tournament, make nice to board members (but don’t for pity’s sake ask them for anything), keep the files up to date, get out a newsletter, arrange for the bus to pick up….and oh yeah, in your spare time, could you make sure you close the financial gap between our revenue and expenses.

All these tasks may belong in the development department. But not even superman could accomplish all and do any of it well. For starters, these all require different skill sets. Beyond that is the fact that most people who are not in the business of fundraising do not seem to understand that development is not a single thing with a single set of tasks that require a single set of skills to be accomplished in a single timeframe.

So the most important 100 days for you are the 100 before you accept the position. It’s during this time that you calibrate the expectations of the individuals who are considering hiring you, helping them to understand what’s realistic and what’s not, and why.

I have always told organizations that building a development program is like building a large building: After the first year, progress looks like a giant hole in the ground…but a hole with purpose! If you want something other than a house of cards, the hole must be well dug and the foundation must be well laid. In my experience that typically takes around 18 months…which means that right at the point that any structure would be about ready to rise up out of the hole in the ground, the organization fires the fundraiser for being ineffective, thus restarting the clock and setting back progress another 18 months.

The only way out of this vicious cycle is to address it head on in the interview process. That’s not the right time to say “yup yup yup” when they ask you if you are capable of posting big gains in a hurry. And if they say, “You know, we only have enough money to fund your position for the next 90 days, so that means you have to raise a lot of money between now and then to cover your salary and our organization’s needs,” that’s a sign that not only do they not understand development, they’re also smoking crack (i.e., exhibiting an alarming tendency to not take development–and nonprofit management and stewardship–seriously).

I know especially in today’s meager job market it’s tough for you to say no when you’re offered any job. But trust me: the only time you have to recalibrate expectations is before you take the job. After you take the job, even Pamela’s excellent 100 day list can’t save you if you’ve said yes to a development job with crazy expectations that are rooted in nonprofit fundraising fantasyland instead of reality.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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3 Responses to By the time your first 100 days as a development director start, it’s too late

  1. Pingback: If You Train Your Development Officer In Only One Area, Make Sure It’s This One | Transformational Giving

  2. Carolyn says:

    Great article! loved the bit about are they smoking crack?! Some orgs become so desparate in this changing nonprofit climent… and their expections become more unrealistic and desparate. But well thought out strategies often can shed the light help them be more pragmatic about their efforts and expectations. They should be in the seat of the grantor sometimes! :-O whew that’s an eye-opening experience.

    • EFoley says:

      Great insight, Carolyn–I think you’re exactly right about the value of nonprofit execs seeing the view from the other side of the table. It’s hard for nonprofits to imagine that giving away money can be challenging, but that’s the beginning of a great insight that can help nonprofits transform their relationships with foundations.

      Keep in touch!

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