How Executive Directors Can Most Help Their Development Directors

by Seth Rosen

Creating a topnotch fundraising plan is not solely the job of your Director of Development. You are an important part of the success too.

Dear Executive Directors,

Hold on to your hats because I have some surprising news for you.

Creating a topnotch fundraising plan is not solely the job of your Director of Development. You are an important part of the success of this plan and a key stakeholder in its creation.

Maybe you already know this. Even live it. If you do, kudos.

But I’ll share from my own experience. I have never once worked with an Executive Director or CEO that fully embraced the reality that a Director of Development cannot create a compelling and fully optimized development plan without extensive CEO input.

A good plan? Sure. One that brings in money? No doubt.

But without your input, the plan will never be the best it can be.

It’s not just my own experience either. I now work with a number of different nonprofits and this same issue has come up a bunch of times.

It comes down to this. A DoD can create a good plan without your input, but it will never be the best it can be. It’s not that Executive Directors don’t want to help. Of course they do.

So with that in mind, and understanding that many nonprofits are starting a new fiscal year on July 1st, I’ve prepared an easy plan for any Executive Director to use as a template to work with their Director of Development to create an outstanding fundraising plan.


First, let me tell you what I think fundraising is. Bringing in money? Well, sure.

Fundraising is the art of engaging partners to support an organization’s vision and good work.

Of course, this assumes that your organization has a vision and does good work in the first place. Without that, it’s very difficult to fundraise.

As an Executive Director it is your responsibility to share your vision for the next year(s) with your Development Director. You need to lay out a roadmap that the development team can amplify to engage donors.

And you also have to be honest with your Director of Development and tell the development team what you would like done differently next year. Do not just assume they will know.


Solid, dedicated prep time thinking about what you want the organization to look like in the next year is absolutely essential before talking with your DOD about next year’s plan. Do not try and do this on the fly. Spend time thinking about what your nonprofit needs to tackle in the next 12 months. Where do you want the organization to go? Are big capital projects coming up? Is the funding environment your organization is operating in changing? Realistically, how much time will you be available to commit to fundraising?

Every year is different and you need to be cognizant about the challenges and opportunities your organization is facing. They will affect fundraising pretty much no matter what.


Far too often Executive Directors do not spend dedicated time telling senior staff about their vision for the next year. A Director of Development must know where an ED wants to take the organization so donors and prospects can be guided there. Messaging, and fundraising strategies simply can’t be crafted without this information. And its not just fundraising staff that needs to know your vision – this is so important for all senior staff.

Additionally, your vision will determine the future size of the organization. Is next year a growth year? Is the goal to maintain size? Growth must absolutely be carefully planned on an organization-wide basis. Growth just for the sake of looking bigger on a 990 or annual report is a bad idea.

You also need to articulate your fundraising vision. If you hated the Hoedown fundraiser that your DOD planned last year, you need to say it. If you want a planned giving program, say so. I have personally been in a place where an ED has been hands off and not told me that he didn’t like something until it was too late to do anything about it. Once that happens no one will be happy.


After you articulate your vision for the organization, and for next year’s fundraising plan, your DOD should tell you her thoughts. Hopefully your DOD will feel comfortable telling you her opinions, but if not, you need to gently push her to suss out what she thinks. It is in the DNA of most fundraisers to please, and a good ED recognizes this and helps lead a DOD to a place where she feels comfortable having an honest conversation.


If you have done all of the above than you are in great shape. The next phase of creating an awesome fundraising plan rests on the shoulders of your Director of Development. But you are still responsible for oversight and there are very specific items you should expect in the plan.

A revenue goal is only one of them.

In my blog post next week I’ll be writing about what needs to be in the fundraising plan you get back from your DOD. I’ll also tell you what to do if it falls short and how you can help your DOD get there.

In the meantime I would love to hear from Executive Directors. How involved are you in your organization’s fundraising planning?

3 thoughts on “How Executive Directors Can Most Help Their Development Directors”

  1. Thanks so much for this. I’m starting at the beginning and reading through the whole series. This one particularly makes sense to me because I’m starting to think about next year’s budget and the “vision thing” will help me focus my planning in a better way.

  2. Beth, thank you so much for commenting, and I’m so glad you are finding the series helpful. Good luck with all of your fundraising!

  3. A Fundraising/Development Plan requires a collaborative effort between the CEO/ED and CDO/Development Director in order to prove successful. We believe the plan must also involve other areas and departments such as Marketing and Planned Giving. In addition, we involve and engage key leadership (Campaign Director, Campaign Team, etc.) so they feel empowered and engaged in the planning process.
    Our annual Development Plan takes a holistic approach to ensure our organization speaks with “One Integrated Voice”. It sets the tone for each campaign year and serves as a plan based on strategy and measurable outcomes.
    We present the plan at our first Board of Directors meeting as it provides a professional platform to begin the year in a thoughtful manner.
    Thanks for posting the article – it was a great read!

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