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[ASK AN EXPERT] Tips for EDs Hiring Their First Fundraiser

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Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from an executive director who is looking for advice on hiring their first development staff member.

Dear Charity Clairity,

I’m an executive director ready to hire my first development director so I can free up my time from raising money. I can’t keep this up! I need to devote more time to growing and strengthening our programs and managing our budget. What are the most important qualities I should look for in my new development staffer?

— Looking forward to no more fundraising

Dear No More Fundraising,

I hate to break this to you, but the executive director is the fundraiser-in-chief.  You’re the person donors most want to meet and talk with. You’re the person most capable of inspiring philanthropy. Why? Because you’re the face if your organization. And the buck stops with you.

By all means you should hire a development staffer; let’s clarify your expectations.

  • Development staff don’t free up the executive director from fundraising; they help maximize the E.D.’s time so they make most effective use of their inspirational role.
  • Development staff don’t alleviate board members from fundraising responsibilities; they help inspire, organize, support and cheerlead them in their efforts as ambassadors, advocates and askers.

Hiring a development director means ‘plus’ resources dedicated to fundraising. You’ll still spend the time you’ve spent in the past, and probably more. But you’ll work more productively and raise a lot more money this way.

Fundraising is a team sport. That’s why so many in the social benefit sector today talk about building a culture of philanthropy. You can’t put a development staffer over into a corner and expect money to rain down from the sky. Development is all about building relationships with prospects and donors, and you want as many relationship builders on your team as possible.  Fundraising should be part of everyone’s job.

The most important quality you should look for in your new development hire is someone who asks:

  • Who’s on my team?
  • What is the role of the board in fundraising?
  • What is your role, as E.D., in fundraising?
  • What is the role of program staff in fundraising?
  • What is the organizational culture around fundraising?
  • How would you hope I will coordinate the efforts of all our team members so we’ll raise the most funds possible?

You want someone who knows how nonprofits operate and are funded. Someone who understands the development director is a planner, strategist, producer, director, choreographer, and showrunner. They are not simply a solo actor, responding to cues. They are proactive, creative and excited to be stepping into this role – as an integral part of your ‘much more fundraising’ team!

Charity Clairity

Have a question for our Fundraising Coach?

Please submit your question here. Remember, there are no stupid questions! If you need an answer, it’s likely someone else does too. So help your colleagues by asking away. Please use a pseudonym, like “No More Fundraising” did, if you prefer to be anonymous.

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  • Dan Kirsch

    Whenever I get a call from an org looking to hire its first development professional I send them a link to the Haas/CompassPoint "UnderDeveloped" report and insist exec and board members read and discuss its lessons and how they might apply to their particular situation.
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