Darn Those Development Directors

Yesterday, in an article titled “Firing your Development Director? Join the Club!,” I reported on a study that CompassPoint has published about the much maligned position of development director. It has been madly tweeted ever since, and this morning I received a call from a friend acting in such a position, saying that it rang her bells—and not in a good way. “I’d say more,” she went on, “but I have to focus here and keep trying to put together a list of past donors from these scraps of paper and bits of string.”


The study very succinctly lays out a vicious cycle that many nonprofits are in; one where they hire a development director into a position that is often marginalized and without appropriate infrastructure, and within a short time—natch—the organization and development director come to a parting of the ways, and the development director is fired or quits. Rinse—repeat.

Meanwhile, money is presumably left on the table and many are left with the impression that the pool of candidates or the hire was somehow off, or the fit was off, when really we just did not set the table properly.

As Dr. Phil always says, “…And how’s that working for you?”

The study contains much to make you think and do differently. Thanks to CompassPoint for yet another fabulous, grounded piece of research and to the Walter and Evelyn Haas, Jr. Fund for funding another such study. The sector is indebted to that management assistance organization and foundation for a lot, but not least their willingness to invest in building and sharing knowledge.

  • Development Director

    Amen! In a former position, for which I had resigned from a very stable job, I arrived on my first day to discover 28 years worth of donor records covering the floor & every other surface of my office. In random piles. Also, the previous director had not entered any information into the donor database, because she didn’t like the software.

    They forgot to tell me all that during the interviews. Silly me for not asking!

    So, 4 1/2 months later, they eliminated my position. Right after I had submitted all the major grants.

    The Executive Director freely admitted that they had lied to me during the interview process, “Because we wanted you to take the job.” Oh, and they “couldn’t afford” any severance pay, either.

    So, even if an organization seems financially stable, job-seekers might want to investigate how they actually managed to balance the budget. Maybe by keeping a development person on the payroll for only part of the year, then eliminating the job?