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How Will I Know (if my Development Director is doing a good job)?

by Susie Hills | Jun 18, 2019 | Fundraising

For some reason, the words of the Whitney Houston track, “How Will I Know?” came to mind as I pondered the question, “How will I know if our new Director of Development is doing a good job?”

The institutional leader asking me this question had clearly ‘fallen in love’ with the idea of having a Director of Development and had been bowled over by the individual who was appointed. However, the reality of managing a fundraising professional had now become clear to this leader. This was new territory. The leader knew how to manage academic staff, knew what the performance indicators should look like, and knew exactly ‘what good looks like’ for a those who teach and do research. None of this applied to managing a fundraiser.

This leader had no points of reference and no way of knowing what realistic expectations should be. This leader was committed to the concept, but ignorant as to the reality. It felt like they were coaching a player in a sport they had never played.

The leader also asked, “What will the Director of Development need from me?”. They were acutely aware that success didn’t rest alone with the new Director of Development; the leader had a crucial role to play. This person knew what academic colleagues needed in terms of leadership and support, but yet again, was unclear as to what a fundraiser might need. The leader had never played this sport so had no idea what their role on the team was.

In the absence of clear expectations and under pressure to see a return on investment, there is a danger that the success of a new Director of Development will be measured in the wrong way. Either an unrealistic fundraising target will be set (too much in too short a period of time), or conversely, too long will be spent on ‘friend raising’ before the fundraising begins.

This situation is heightened when the Director of Development lacks experience and needs support to set the right goals for his or her work. Given the shortage of experienced fundraisers, a ‘bright young star’ or an experienced professional from another sector will tempt many institutions. This doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster, but it needs to be approached with caution and support for both the leader and the Director of Development in creating strategy, agreeing performance indicators, and setting targets – understanding the rules and developing shared ‘tactics’.

And they cannot do it alone, in addition both the leader and the Director will need support from the board and senior leadership – fundraising is a team sport and its vital everyone understands those ‘rules’ and the role they have to play.

The magic formula would be to provide support to the institutional leader in the form of a fellow leader who has fundraised before, support for the Director of Development from an experienced fundraising professional and training for the board and senior leadership in fundraising. With all the ‘players’ briefed on the ‘rules’ and trained in the skills required then the ‘game’ can be won!

Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin