How to Be a Great Development Director

Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to lead the search for a development director for several different non-profits, and over the course of my career have served as the development director for several organizations. I have spent a lot of time thinking – what makes a development director “great”?

While great fundraising professionals come in all shapes and sizes, I believe that there are three key characteristics that are shared by all truly great development directors:

1. They Lead

Great development directors lead, they don’t follow. They believe in the mission of the organization they are working for, and are willing to step out front and forge a strategy for resourcing the future needs of the organization. Leading means being able to make decisions, take initiative, and bear responsibility for both successes and failures.

Leading isn’t for everyone… not everyone in an organization is capable of writing a plan, getting people invested in that plan, and making decisions that will directly effect the success of the effort. The most successful non-profits have true leaders heading up their development operations.

2. They Ship

Great development directors are, by nature, entrepreneurial: they understand that in order to reach their overall goals, they are going to have to figure some things out along the way. They develop a plan, and are prepared for failures and setbacks along the way. As things happen, they make decisions and adjust course, all the while understanding that the success of the organization is in their hands.

In short, they figure out how to get the job done… they are the adult in the room. Seth Godin calls this “shipping” (as in figuring out how to ship products out the door in a business). A great development director ships… he or she figures out how to get things done.

3. They Work

Great development directors aren’t afraid of work. They didn’t get into development because they like going to lunch and being invited to events. They got into development to make a difference for a cause they believe in, and they work hard to make as big a difference as possible for as many people as possible.

The best development professionals are also the hardest working… they’re not afraid to make asks, go to meetings, work the phones, write appeals, and support and encourage their staff, all in the same day. The best fundraisers I have known are the ones about whom you constantly hear, “I just don’t know how she does it all.”

It’s a Decision

Here’s the best part: being a great development director is a decision that any development director can make. Sure there are some people who are born leaders, born shippers, born workers… but there are far more people who choose to be that way, who learn, practice, and do it, because they love the mission they are supporting, and they know that what they do makes a real difference, every day.