Finding the Right Development Officer for Your Organization: Part 1

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Executive directors often ask me how to select the right candidate to serve as the chief development officer. Here are some tips:

  1. Distinguish between a development officer and an administrative support person. Make sure you have adequate administrative support so that your professional development officer doesn’t spend time inputting and manipulating data, scheduling meetings, or handling routine administrative tasks. This is a waste of the development officer’s time and expertise—and a waste of your money.
  2. Craft a darn good job description. Check out the version in my Free Download Library. This is a leadership position with significant design and decision-making responsibilities. Your chief development officer is a senior level manager, part of the organization’s senior team.
  3. Obviously, you have to hire someone who possesses the documented body of knowledge in fund development, and demonstrates real-world experience.
  4. In addition to expertise and experience in fund development, think about what you expect in anyone who holds a senior level position. For example: Team player. Effective supervisor, mentor, and coach for other employees and for volunteers who help with fund development. Strategic and critical thinker. Problem identifier and fixer. Leader. (And you must define what you mean by “leadership,” because there are so many different interpretations. Check out my website blog, Simone Uncensored, and visit the “leadership” category.)
  5. By the way, I expect chief development officers—and all other senior managers—to be organizational development specialists. That includes having familiarity with systems thinking and learning organization business management theories. Knowledge of governance to be able to facilitate that with board members on committees. General management and strategic planning expertise. And so forth.

Those five items are just the start—the preparation, so to speak.

Now you, the CEO, have to understand just enough about fundraising to be able to conduct an interview. Start with CFRE International’s Test Content Outline. CFRE is the baseline credential for fundraisers. And the Test Content Outline summarizes the minimal knowledge that an experienced fundraiser should have to do the job.

Maybe you’ll want to bring in a professional fundraiser to help review resumes, help craft interview questions, and participate in the interviews. I’ve provided that service over the years.

I suggest that CEO (or his or her representative) conduct a preliminary interview to verify specific information and get an initial impression of the candidate. Then, the CEO should select the top candidates for interviews. Hopefully, you have identified three to five candidates for interviews.

Make sure to send your final candidates critical information about your organization. You should expect the candidates to come prepared to comment on your materials. For example, I would include the following items:

  • Your organization’s most recent annual report, your audit, and your current strategic plan.
  • A couple copies of your donor communications, e.g., a donor newsletter, a solicitation letter, a case for support.
  • Organizational structure, e.g., showing staffing structure and senior management team.
  • List of board members and their general information, e.g., occupation, etc.
  • Some donor statistics, e.g., number of donors, donor retention and acquisition rates.
  • And, if you have a fundraising plan, definitely include that in the advance information, too.

The interview process

Construct your interview team carefully. Make sure everyone on the interview team understands his/her role and limitation.

The limitation is the most important, I think. Here goes: The CEO is the one who makes the final hiring decision. Everyone else is there to share observations and offer insights, but the CEO is the final decision-maker.

Here’s who I want on the interview team: three to four board members, including the Fund Development Committee Chair; one or two members of the Fund Development Committee; and perhaps the board chair. Additionally, members of the senior management team, e.g., head of program/mission implementation, finance officer, and any member of the senior management team.

Of course, the interview questions are critically important. Good interview questions require that a candidate think carefully, respond thoughtfully, and demonstrate expertise and experience to you.

Assign different questions to different people on the interview team. Alternate general questions with fundraising-specific questions. Determine the order in which you want to ask the questions. And, of course, other members of the interview team can ask for clarification even if they didn’t ask the question originally.

One final interview tip

Pay attention to what the candidates ask you. Their questions demonstrate their insights and expertise and experience. Their questions demonstrate their application of their knowledge and experience based on a review of your information.

And one more thought for this column

I hope you expect job candidates to be assertive and gracious, candid and respectful. I hope you expect the candidate to offer you gentle critique and advice about how to improve your fundraising.

Surely you don’t want to hire a meek, mild, dysfunctionally polite, go-along-with-everyone senior manager. Surely you want a leader—and that means courageous, speaks out, challenges assumptions, guide and change agent.

In my next column, you’ll find great interview questions.


  • Paul Jolly

    Great insights and resources, Simone. One thing I would add: some self-reflection on the part of the CEO and the board is essential, before the process begins. Many organizations sabotage the development officer by expecting him or her to handle fundraising on his or her own. An honest appraisal of the CEO’s strengths, weaknesses, confidences, and insecurities, and the board’s level of involvement in fundraising, will go a long way toward creating a successful hire.

  • Simone Joyaux

    I agree with you, Paul. The CEO and the board have to be prepared for a good development officer. The CEO and board have to avoid the results of the UnderDeveloped Research and report from CompassPoint. (I comment on that report in a previous column.)

    Maybe I should write a column about the questions that development officer candidates should ask during the interview. How does that sound?