Development: The Person in the Middle

on in Fundraising

Development Directors are facilitators. Their work is done through the actions of others: executive directors, board members, funders, donors, volunteers, program staff.

For the most part, the visible components of the development process – sending a letter, having lunch with a prospective donor, approving a grant proposal, writing a check – are prepared for by the development director, but undertaken by those in more external-facing roles.

A development director’s job can be compared to the invisible hand moving the pieces around a chess board. 

Especially in small development departments, relying on fundraising staff to raise the money needed will only get so far. Successful development directors are motivators, enablers, matchmakers, coaches – they win when the people they’ve sent off come back with the goods (money, stuff, connections, ideas), rather than being the primary hunter-gatherers themselves.

It requires a shift in focus – from “Who can I get to give us $?” – to “Who can I mobilize to go out there on our behalf?

Sometimes it’s more frustrating, working through others – it’s less direct, and less under our control. Our job is to get other people to do our (secret) bidding, when it’d be a heap easier to just do the job ourselves!

BUT… we get a lot farther when others do the walking for us.

On a practical level this means, rather than overflowing task lists, a fundraisers’ to-do’s are filled with “indirect influence” assignments: “See if Katie will call Miguel to set up a time to meet with him and his wife,” or “Remind Anita to stop by her company’s HR office to enquire about their contributions policy.”

Sure, you could do both of those assignments yourself, but the likelihood is your phone call would not get returned.

It’s worth the extra effort to enable actors whose outreach has clout.

And hence the definition of a good development officer – as someone who gets others to do their job.

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