It’s Time to Hire Your First Development Staffer

by Joan Garry

Congrats! Your nonprofit is ready to make its first development hire. Who exactly should you be looking for? My downloadable job description should help.

Executive Director: “We need to hire a development director but we don’t have the money because my board isn’t helping me raise money.” 

Board Member: “If the E.D. would just raise more money, she could hire a development director and she’d stop nagging me to ask people for money (and I am quite sure that when I was recruited, I said I can’t do that.)

Sound familiar?

But let’s say you bust out of it. You’d shift things around, maybe you eliminate a position or you escort a poor hire off the organizational bus. VOILA! You have a full year of a salary for your first development hire.

Guess what? That’s the easy part. The hard part is making the right hire. Who exactly should you be looking for?

A poorly paid senior person?

An admin to support your development efforts?

Someone in the middle you expect to do it all?

Today, I’ll help you tackle this question. I’ve even included a sample job description you can download outlining the key responsibilities for your first development hire. It’s something you can review, tweak, and share with your board chair and your development committee (please tell me you have one) so you can set your hire (and you) (and your board) up for success.

Download a free sample job description here.


A client of mine is a board chair looking to hire the organization’s first Executive Director. He told me, “We need to raise money for that,” and I figured we’d build a strategy together. No need. He already had one.

His strategy was to raise FIVE years of salary for the E.D. and in fact when he arrived to his next coaching session, he already had $200K in pledges. This is NOT a $20MM organization, and there is zero culture of philanthropy. But my client is a man with a mission.

And he is absolutely right. He said that within 5 years – maybe sooner – the $100K salary/benefits could be absorbed into the ongoing budget.

If I am your board chair or your Treasurer, no new hire gets made on my watch unless it is part of a solid annual budget where the revenue is reasonable and achievable. And as for development hires, pretend you have a hearing problem if someone says the following:

Well, if we hire a development person, the fundraising revenue should go up. That would cover the whole salary… or at least a good portion.

I call this a K.O.D. remark.

Kiss. Of. Death.

What do we think? A new development person walks in and starts pulling $20s, new checks, or even small change out of her pockets on day 1?

Uh. No.

Repeat after me: Development is a relationship business, not a transactional one. A new development staffer, assuming you can afford someone who can effectively cultivate and close gifts, will need time. This person may in fact be able to help the organization increase its revenue in year 1. But that should be a hope and not an expectation.

This will be the hardest part of the sell. But stick to these talking points, and don’t let the board push for increased revenue. It is a complete set up (and not the good kind).


Let’s assume you have the money part solved. Now comes the intangible issue – the one that doesn’t have a price tag in the budget, but will actually have the most financial and long-lasting consequences.

How will your new hire integrate the board?

Will the she engage the board in efforts to invite folks to know more and do more for your organization? OR will she give board members the false sense that they are now off the hook because she will “take care of everything.”

If you do not manage these board expectations, you might as well not make the hire. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but organizational leadership (board chair and Executive Director) needs to be crystal clear about what the new hire means for the organization.

I beg you. Do not make the hire until everyone is on board about the role this person will play and the role the board will play as a result.

You need to say it clearly.

A new hire means more board accountability around development. Not less.


Before you start the hiring process, let’s look at the team and determine what you need for success. 

1) Is there a development champion on your board?

Sure would be nice if this was the board chair, but it doesn’t have to be. The E.D. and new development staffer need a partner who can help build a culture of philanthropy on the board. Together, they need to get the board thinking about fundraising differently, and work to educate the board that fundraising is not about wrenching someone’s wallet from their pocket. Identify someone who is your most vocal and eloquent ambassador – who loves talking about the organization. That’s a good place to start.

When you find that person, put her/him on the development committee. Stat.

2) Can your Development Committee morph into an entity that helps the development person hold board members accountable?

The charge of a development committee should be to champion the board’s efforts to open doors, engage new people, give and get. It should be a group that is all about peer accountability. I am painfully aware that far too many committees fancy themselves the supervisors of the staff’s effort to fundraise.

But all it takes is one enthusiastic ambassador to shift the mindset. The person does not have to be a seasoned fundraiser (though it would help). Find the best storyteller, the person you know absolutely loves the organization and loves talking about it. You can turn that person into a development champion.

And your new hire will need one.

3) If you are the Executive Director, are you ready to be held to a different level of accountability?

You are so excited you will finally be able to make this hire. But there won’t be room for excuses.

“If only I had a development director, I could hit my numbers / exceed them / get my board to fundraise.”

Now you’ll have someone. And as the E.D., you must be ready to shift how you spend your time because the success of your new hire will ride on the degree to which you are actively engaged in fundraising.

Remember what I said earlier? A new development hire introduces greater (not less) accountability. True for board members. True for E.D.s


The short answer is, “not too senior and not too junior.”

The other short answer: consider calling the job something other than a Development Director. At least think hard about that.

There won’t be staff to direct if this is Development Hire #1. And you have money, but not enough to hire a seasoned Development Director professional. Which is what makes this all tricky.

I think it is a ‘manager’ level position. The person is managing the organization’s development efforts. Until you raise more money, the E.D. leads the development efforts in partnership with the board.

Need a template for a job description? You’re in luck. I have on here you can download that I hope will ensure a really thoughtful discussion about the job responsibilities and profile of the candidate you seek. Be forewarned. It’s written in “Joan language.”

Here’s a very brief snapshot:

Key Responsibilities

  • Think fundraising “chief of staff” to the Executive Director and the board. Not too junior, not too senior
  • Manage the operations
  • Set the table for E.D. fundraising and push E.D. to be out and asking
  • Prospect research
  • Liaison with board fundraising champion to ensure the board has what it needs to be successful


  • Ridiculously detail oriented
  • Excellent with volunteers (with evidence to support that)
  • Assertive but not overly aggressive
  • Respectful of but not daunted by power (boss or board)
  • In love with your organization and the enthusiasm is completely contagious

Have a read and share it with your leadership partner. But before you dissect the ‘job description,’ be sure to talk about the issues I have raised.

Because the most important work has to happen before the job is even posted.

Download a free sample job description here.

4 thoughts on “It’s Time to Hire Your First Development Staffer”

  1. I so appreciated this frank look at the Development issue. I will use all points in my discussion with my board. Thanks Joan.

  2. OMG THANK YOU! I am an AmeriCorps VISTA in my second month of my second term of service doing development work. (In other words, I know what I am doing, but I am still new and a special kind of volunteer.). This post is my job description for the next ten months. Exactly. Fortunately for me, both I and the ED agree that this is my job. Fortunately, the board chair has already met me and likes me. Critical.
    VISTAs are often brought in with expectations to turn around a function such as outreach or development without support for the change. Many VISTAS never even meet the board. I am lucky.
    However, there are still two problems. How do I build trust quickly? And how can the ED and I together raise the bar for accountability? I am an outsider and she is fighting the expectation that she will pick up the fundraising ball when it gets dropped by a board member (which she does.) That is our (literal) $64,000 question.

  3. Oh how I wish I had read this two months ago. I just hired our first Development & Communications Director. First I had to eliminate a marketing position to justify the salary but I did that knowing this was the next step we had to take. I’m not saying we’re in a bad place with this big step – we’ve actually done a lot that you suggest here, Joan – but I had to feel my way in the dark. We are expecting some increased revenue from this position by way of fundraising efforts, sponsorship sales, membership drives, more communication with constituents, and eventually donor relationships. I cannot let this attempt to create a development program fail. Unfortunately, our very small BOD is composed of people that are not from our area so at the same time that we’re building a full-fledged development program, we’ll be building out the board with locals who have relationships in this area and a development committee that can help us make the connections we need. It’s an exciting time but also a bit terrifying and it’s become abundantly clear that as the E.D., I have to step up and make development my #1 job, too! Wish us luck!

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