Articles Development Director Deep Dive

Development Director Deep Dive

What a new Development Director needs to do to successfully fundraise in their first few months on the job

Thrown into the Development Director Deep End

What happened: I was asked to be the chair of the parish fundraising committee for our "build a new church" campaign.

Who I am: A member of the parish, middle-aged, no experience doing development or fundraising (beyond selling chocolate bars as a kid for my soccer team).

This is the story of how I tried learning the ropes in the first few months as an "acting" Development Director.

What is a Development Director?

A Development Director is the lead fundraising person for an organization.

He may have a team under him, or may be doing it solo. He is expected to find prospects who may donate, cultivate relationships with them, and ask them for donations to accomplish the mission of the organization, possibly for a specific campaign.

A campaign is a single project with some purpose. Mine was to build a new church, since we were outgrowing our current one. 

What are the Goals of the Organization?

When taking on a new role as Development Director, you want to learn what the mission of the organization as a whole is. 

Usually this is written somewhere, or people at the organization can tell you in their own words.

You want to then tie the specific campaign into this larger mission. Doing so will help you understand the "why" behind asking prospects to donate and will demonstrate the noble purpose of the organization (assuming it has a noble purpose; if not, then find another place to work!).

For my church, the organization's mission is to Evangelize the area for Christ. This is the mission in essence of any Christian church.

But the specific campaign is to build a new church. Why are we doing that? (Ask questions, dig deeper.)

The practical motivation is, we've run out of room in the current church. Mass attendance each weekend bursts at the seams, and people are starting to go to other parishes, because there's no room in the inn at our church.

But the deeper motivation, tied to the parish's mission, is that there's a spiritual need for the faithful that our parish is meeting, but we have hit our spatial limit and need to expand to accommodate everyone who God is calling to join and grow at our parish. 

Who Can Help Do the Development Fundraising?

Great, so I said yes to fundraising and doing the Development Director role.

But in our case we have several hundred families at the parish, and I cannot meet with them all in a timely way. I need help.

Fortunately the larger fundraising committee recognized this and suggested several other parishioners to ask to help out with the Development fundraising.

These people I then invited to join the Development team, making it clear that it would entail meeting with parishioners and asking them to donate money.

In thinking about who would be a good fit to invite, I thought of qualities like being personable and able to read people well.

Not everyone I invited said yes. That's okay. It's important that the people who join do so willingly and not out of guilt or compulsion.

This role is not for everyone: some people are so introverted that the idea of asking people for money makes them extremely uncomfortable.

I myself find it daunting, but also I see myself as merely an instrument of the parish.

It's not "me" asking them per se, but rather I'm acting on behalf of the parish itself to invite them to contribute to something we all know is a good thing.

Our parish also has a mix of long-time members and newer members, with plenty in between. So I wanted a representative group of Development team members from each of those time ranges.

People who have been at the parish longer are more widely known, respected, and can relate better with the other parish "veterans." But newer members bring a fresh perspective and enthusiasm to the parish.

Discovering Objections People Have

Before meeting with prospective donors, it's important to get an idea of what objections or concerns that people have about your organization or the specific campaign.

I talked with various parishioners "off the record" and gauged what their concerns were.

Most of these concerns were valid, in varying degrees, and so my team and I needed to come up with good responses to them.

That doesn't mean that you are going to convince everyone and overcome all objections. Some people will stick to their guns and be unwilling to give.

But you can at least help everyone with an objection know that it has been thought about and that there are reasons or mitigations for what they are worried about.

We wrote these objections down in our project document repository so all could benefit from them, and put some of them into a public FAQ on the website.

What Project Management Tool Should Development Directors Use?

This raises the question: which tool should an organization use for their Development activities.

Tons of tools exist! From Asana to Trello to Notion to Jira to specific tools for online fundraising.

I gauged the technical capabilities of the people on the Development team and decided to go with a simple document repository using Microsoft OneDrive.

OneDrive is similar to Google Drive and allows you to store Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, presentations, and more where everyone can access them and even simultaneously edit them.

What you don't get with Google Drive or OneDrive is a fully integrated project management tool, task boards, kanban flows, bug/issue tracking, etc. 

But much of that, as we used to say in the software engineering world, is YAGNI: You Aren't Gonna Need It.

What project management or document repository tool you use leads into the next question: which online fundraising platform to use, since these often have overlap.

Which Online Fundraising Platform to Use?

In our case, we had a green field where we got to choose which online fundraising platform to use, and we went with MemberDrive (more on why later).

But more often than not you are inheriting an existing online fundraising platform.

Maybe it's Donorbox, or Give Central, or Fundly, or Donately, or one of the many others.

It's probably fine, right? Right?

Maybe, and maybe not. You need to spend some time as a Development Director evaluating your current fundraising platform, because at best it may not suit your organization's needs like it used to, and at worst you could be leaving thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on the table, because it's taking a large cut of your donations and/or large monthly fee.

How can you compare them?

You're in luck: I wrote a short article comparing the top 7 online fundraising platforms, including an at-a-glance price comparison

These options can wildly range from taking 1% (MemberDrive) to taking up to 10% of your donations!

A few scenarios to consider:
  • You find that your platform is great/excellent
    • Action: just keep using it!
  • You find that another platform is better
    • Two options: Switch to that new platform and pay the migration effort, or decide that it's not worth switching even though it is better
Migrating is always a pain. Sometimes though the new platform will help you do the migration: it's worth asking.

So even if a new platform is better, you have to estimate the effort to move and whether it is worthwhile.

If you use a new platform, consider that your team members have to learn the new system, that errors might occur in the migration, that the new platform might not have the exact or all the features of your current system.

But also think about the long-term benefits: a platform that takes only half the cut of another one will quickly pay for itself in your organization keeping more of your money.

How to Find Prospective Donors?

Great: you are up and running.

You have an online fundraising platform.

You know the organization's mission and the specific goal of the current campaign.

Now you need to cultivate prospects and turn them into donors. 

How do you find them?

Your organization likely already has a list of previous and current donors: that's the place to start.

People who have given to you in the past are more likely to give to you in the future, versus finding new donors who will need education and cultivation and convincing.

From there, fan out to other like-minded groups in your community: if you are church, what about other parishes (Catholic/Orthodox) in the area or (Protestant) other ones in the same denomination?

If you're a non-profit, what about other non-profits and support organizations who are helping a similar demographic/need?

You may know people at these other organizations. If not, start to socialize!

Attend conferences, seminars, meet-ups, and other events where people in these organizations congregate.

Find the facebook groups and other social media hang-outs of these like-minded people. 

Reach out to friends and contacts associated with them and request introductions to the leaders. Maybe you could give a talk at the local organic gardening group? The Rotary Club? The Chamber of Commerce?

Another way to find people is through content marketing: build up your website with helpful blog posts and articles on your topics.

Offer to write guest posts at bigger sites where prospects go.

Record some youtube videos and podcasts to establish yourself as an authority on the topic.

Invite people to contribute to your organization's mission with a clear call to action.

How to Meet with Prospects?

The rubber meets the road when you meet with prospects and make the "ask" for a contribution.

Whole books are written about this topic, but we'll hit the high points.

What are the best ways to meet with someone (in order from most effective to least effective):
  1. In person, face-to-face in their home
  2. In person at a coffee shop or restaurant or public space
  3. In person at your own home
  4. In a small group setting, up to 5 couples or individuals, with an appetizer, a presentation, then the ask
  5. Video conference
  6. Phone call
  7. Email outreach
Note that, just because in person at their house is best, does NOT mean that you should not pursue whichever way someone is open to meeting.

And even though phone call and email outreach are at the bottom, does not mean that you shouldn't do them.

Email outreach is a key method of keeping people informed of your organization's mission and progress toward the campaign goal, so by all means, use it. But don't rely on it as the sole or primary means of getting donations.

When meeting, you ideally have a script to follow.

Developing a specific script is beyond the scope of this article, but good training exists out there for Development Directors and Executive Directors.

You also can consider hiring a fundraising consultant to help you develop a script and get training from them on how to make the ask.

Fundraising Consultants and Training

Utilize an internet search or search LinkedIn for "fundraising consultant" and "development director training."

You'll find some big shops with prefabricated consulting packages, but you also can find smaller businesses that are more oriented to giving you custom guidance.

For instance, I've worked with Brad Endres of Avail Capital on a fundraising project.

I also have worked with Todd Inman of Aquinas Philanthropy Consulting on another project.

Especially if you are new to being a Development Director or do not have an established team to help you, getting insight and direction from a consultant will pay major dividends.

How to Communicate with Donors and Prospects?

You need to keep your donors in the loop with your organization's progress on the campaign.

An email list is a must. Most online fundraising platforms include some way to email your donors. Alternatively you could use an off-the-shelf email service like Mailchimp et. al.

Set up an autoresponder series of emails when a new person joins your email list, educating them on your organization, its history, its current work, and how they can get involved.

But then send out regular "broadcast" messages keeping them updated on what your organization is doing, progress toward its goals, how their contributions are fueling that progress, and so on.

These can go out once per day, per week, per month, per quarter, or whatever cadence makes sense. Probably a weekly or monthly update is the most common and helpful.

Think also of other ways to communicate: a newsletter, perhaps a physical one that's mailed out to them? A gala or dinner with an auction and speakers? An announcement or update in the church bulletin?

Solicit their input and feedback in these messages: are they confused about something? Concerned? Do they have an idea on how to improve something?

People want to help and like to be heard. Read every email that is replied to and thank them for voicing their thoughts, regardless of whether you ultimately take action on their idea.


Whew! Becoming a Development Director comes with a ton of responsibilities. You need to wear many hats, and we didn't even touch on things like: hiring and managing a team of Development members.

But focus on the high points first, the "big rocks" and get those into place, and then you can fill in the gaps with small rocks and then little pebbles.

Ultimately you need to believe in the organization and its mission. If you don't, no amount of tools or tactics can make up for it, and people will sniff out your lack of conviction about the organization.

Best of luck!

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