Job Descriptions for Development Director: Everything but the Kitchen Sink

Part of our practice includes helping our clients to recruit for Development Director positions. Organizations often call us when they have tried to fill the job, but failed to find good candidates.

The first thing we do is to look at the job description. And more often than not, it’s the genesis of the problem.

With scarce resources, nonprofits pack as much responsibility as possible into all job descriptions. Executive Directors are surely overtaxed. Program Directors are stretched. But in our experience, it’s the development director that has the most impossible job of all.

Many job descriptions for Development Directors include big things that need high-level expertise like creating strategy, and then they also include little, more administrative things like ensuring grant reports are submitted on time. Most include responsibility for every and all donor audiences, and for every step of donor development. In addition, Development Directors are asked to manage, work with the board of directors, and serve as senior managers of the organization.

This “everything but the kitchen sink” approach can be overwhelming and leads to very long job descriptions that a good candidate might bypass.

Others include skills that are not complimentary. You see job descriptions that ask for Development Directors to be both an outward focused major gifts fundraiser and the primary grant writer. These two sets of skills are not often found in the same person.

Major gift solicitors think differently from grant writers and have a different set of skills. Yet there are so many job descriptions out there with these two responsibilities on them. It’s a red flag to those with solid expertise in either of these areas.

It’s not just about responsibilities and expertise. The expectations outlined in most job descriptions for development directors read like an ad for a super hero. Create new initiatives, tap new donor audiences, keep expenses low, ensure donor happiness, and report back on all your success. Grow our revenue! Failure is not an option!

In fact, we know from several recent studies like the now very well-known study UnderDeveloped, that these high expectations are exactly what drives the seriously high turnover that continues to plague fundraising, particularly among development directors.

We believe the problem starts with the job description. If you are in the process of creating or updating a Director of Development job description, here are three steps that are sure to improve it.

  1. Review the job description versus your strategic plan and your fundraising strategy: Does it reflect the expertise you’ll need to meet your longer-term goals? Are you trying to diversify into individual giving? Do you have opportunities in corporate giving? Take stock of what fundraising expertise you’ll need going forward.
  2. Prioritize and trim: Prioritize this list of skills with a simple rating system. What comes first and what comes last? You don’t need someone who does everything. You need someone who can move the needle on your key areas of growth.
  3. Recruit with specific skills and experience in mind: When you put out ads or announcements for the job, concentrate the language on the top priority skills, rather than listing everything the Development Director has to do. You’re more likely to attract the candidates with the skills your organization really needs.

Development professionals can spot the “everything except for the kitchen sink” approach. Show them that you know what you want in terms of experience. It will make for a better recruiting experience for everyone!

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Category: Staff and Board
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About Leslie Allen
For 15 years I worked for Greenpeace – one of the most powerful brands in the world – and I’ve taken the years of learning at large organizations and translated it to work for mid-sized and smaller grassroots organizations here all over the world. Learn More About Leslie...