If You Train Your Development Officer In Only One Area, Make Sure It’s This One

I’m working out of our Korea office for the next few weeks, and while here I get to undertake one of my most favorite tasks:

The care and feeding of our new development officer.

Not meaning to sound melodramatic, but this is a new hire not only for our office here but really for the whole country. That’s because development is in its infancy here in Korea–especially among Christian organizations. So undertaking the process of hiring and training in an environment where everything is new and pristine and undisturbed by the polluting preconceptions of our profession is both exhilarating and daunting. One must consider every step of training really, really carefully in an effort to do as much as possible really, really intentionally.

So as I was reflecting on this today/tonight/this morning (jet lag r us), a question began to formulate itself in my head:

In training a development officer, do you begin by:

A. Teaching her about your organization?
B. Teaching her “the ropes of development”–the tools, techniques, and strategies necessary to raise money as quickly as possible?
C. Teaching her about the cause your organization champions?

If you’ve read even a post or two from this blog before, you’ll suspect immediately that I would choose Option C. But if you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll know that when confronted with any set of Options A, B, and C, I’m definitely an Option D kind of guy.

And sure enough, the more I wrestled with this, the more I concluded that the correct answer really needs to be:

D. Engaging in comprehensive spiritual formation of the development officer

This is definitely not the trendy pick in a profession which typically prefers hiring people who have sales backgrounds or who are “good with people.” After all, most organizations hire development officers because the executive director is too busy to do development anymore. And many organizations that hire development officers do so because they need money yesterday, so the last thing they feel like they can afford to do is to focus on the spiritual development of anybody or anything–at least until the tide of checks come flowing in (which of course it will now that there’s a full-time development professional on staff…right?).

Given these criteria and conditions under which development pros are hired, two things become immediately clear:

  1. It’s clear why the organization will begin training the development professional in Options A and B. After all, understanding the organization and understanding fundraising techniques appear to be the necessary and sufficient conditions for raising money.
  2. Given point 1, it’s clear why the average tenure of a development officer is eighteen months. The approach may smack of common sense, but the uniform experience of organizations just like yours is that it doesn’t work and you shouldn’t be the latest to dash your head against that particular wheel as you reinvent it.

Transformational Giving would seem to favor Option C, helping the development officer to grow in the cause your organization is tasked with championing. And, indeed, there’s a lot to be said for that: hiring someone who is not at the O (Ownership) level of your cause, and then asking them to grow Owners of your cause doesn’t generally make a lot of sense.

But what I’m realizing more and more with each passing day is that what is lacking not only among most development officers but among most nonprofit leaders generally is comprehensive spiritual maturity:

  • Many of us don’t know the Gospel too well
  • Many of us don’t know the purpose of the church and the nonprofit’s role in helping to renew it (rather than being an alternative to it)
  • Many of us are just not that generous, and we have seriously questionable attitudes toward and practices of giving
  • Many of us are picture perfect images of imbalanced Christian leaders, whose ongoing spiritual formation practices have (if we’re even disciplined enough for this) shrunken down to a five-minute daily devotional time
  • Many of us give off a vibe that this is a good thing–we say that balance and spiritual maturity are good, but we want to be known as workaholics who never stop stumping for our organizations and doing what it takes to keep them afloat

And yet the equally significant (maybe even bigger) problem is:

  • Many of our donors are exactly the same way

So to corrupt a phrase from Jesus: Development officer, develop thyself…before thou triest to develop others.

As my wife and I have spent time this week with our new development coordinator, we’ve both come to the same conclusion:

If this person is going to be successful in coaching champions, she probably needs to come and live in our home with us for about a year, watching what we do, observing us as we coach champions, traveling with us to pick up the spiritual disciplines and habits we’ve developed for life on the road, and growing comprehensively as a Christian.

That may sound extreme–having your new development officer move in with you–and we’re still talking as an executive team about what it would mean for us to do this. But I’m not so sure it’s not a whole lot more realistic than most of our training programs. I mean, the sum total of our sector’s training programs has yielded an environment where development professionals get canned after eighteen months because they are not successful.

And I think the biggest cure for our own lack of balance as nonprofit leaders is to have someone living with us and watching our every move with the command to imitate us. There’s something about being watched that prompts one to renew–or perhaps develop for the first time–healthy habits that lead to comprehensive spiritual growth.

And maybe in the end that’s the best way to choose which development professional to hire: Ask yourself the question, “Do I want this person living with me and my family for the next year?”

If that’s the question you take to the hiring process, you might be a whole lot less likely to hire the shower curtain ring salesman with the gift of gab.

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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2 Responses to If You Train Your Development Officer In Only One Area, Make Sure It’s This One

  1. As a new development officer–month six, so I have at least a year left 🙂 — I appreciate your perspective. It surprises me that an organization would hire a development officer who didn’t already know A and C. As you said, why hire someone who doesn’t Own the cause?

    On another note… I can’t help wondering what the Church would look like if every nonprofit intentionally discipled not only their development officer, but all champions.

    • EFoley says:

      Good to have you post up, Warren–hope you’ll stick around the blog for at least another eighteen months!

      Regrettably, I do find that the major prerequisite in most development hires is the personal relational capacity of the applicant, i.e., “good with people.” Since that’s the same characteristic that drives selection of puppies at Petco, that may explain the eighteen month average development tenure…

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