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How to be a nonprofit development director — your first 100 days

How to Be a Nonprofit Development Director — Your First 100 Days

President Roosevelt, coming into office in the midst of the desperate years of the Great Depression, set the standard for new presidents to make their marks within their first 100 days in office.

And, like FDR, incoming President Barack Obama enters the White House at a time of great crisis with his own ambitious first 100 days to do list.

Chances are, if you’re coming on board as a nonprofit development director in today’s climate, you, too, may be facing a time of great instability.

Nonprofits, for the most part, have been hit hard by our nation’s economic woes. They’re facing challenges in terms of donations, staffing, government and foundation funding and organizational structure.

How can you make a difference quickly, while at the same time setting those important standards for your organization’s future sustainability?

Too often a development director’s worth is hastily measured by those without a true understanding of how development operates. Today’s grant proposal will more than likely take months, if not a year, to bear fruit. Establishing a successful individual donor campaign will certainly yield immediate results, but the real results may take years.

How can you best approach your new position in those crucial first 100 days?

Begin by giving yourself some time to review what’s been done in the past. Hopefully the grant files will be well organized, the database will be one that you’re already familiar with, you can access what has been done in terms of any type of annual appeal and events.

Make a list to determine what needs to be done in each of the following areas:

Take a look at your organization’s 990 or budget for the past three years to determine what percentage of the budget came from grant funding.

Has the organization run any past capital campaigns? Do they have a history of funding from the same funders every year? What efforts have been made to locate new sources of foundation or corporate funding? What is the organization’s goal for foundation/corporate funding? What types of relationships does the organization have with their foundation/corporate funders?

If you’ve been in the field for awhile, right off the top of your head, some new sources may come to mind. Make it a point to prioritize locating new sources of funding by doing weekly research.

Individual Donors
Who are your donors? Does your organization have any bequest gifts?

Make it a point to create a listing of your top ten to twenty donors. You’ll want to speak with them on the phone or meet with them personally within the upcoming 100 days to introduce yourself and learn about their connection with the organization.

Don’t make the mistake of solely focusing on your top donors. Query your database as well to find your most loyal donors. These may be individuals who only give $50 — but they’ve given every year for the past ten years. Make it a point to write, call or meet with as many of these individuals as well to introduce yourself and show your appreciation.

I’m assuming that your organization has one ☺. Chances are, if you’re a new development director working for a smaller nonprofit and you are the sole development department, the database may be nonexistent or a bit of a mess.

Do your best to familiarize yourself with your organization’s database, the past protocols for data entry and reporting procedures — and absolutely set aside time for training if necessary.

How has your organization communicated in the past? What does their website look like and who maintains it? Is their website current? What types of collateral does the organization have to express their mission? Is the organization logo prominent on all pieces of communication? Has communication with donors been current or sporadic? Has any effort been made to engage the local press?

Begin to outline a strong, consistent communications plan to keep your donors — and the public — informed.

Does the organization have protocols on stewardship? What are the guidelines for a thank you letter to a donor? To a corporate or foundation funder? When does the Board president or CEO sign the thank you letter? Are thank you calls made on a weekly basis?

Make a plan to gather all stewardship materials together and develop a consistent plan for thanking and retaining donors.

Familiarize yourself with past events, if any. How do they relate to the mission of the organization? Have they met goal? What are the expectations for the upcoming year?

During your first 30 days you should make every effort to introduce yourself to every member of your board of directors if you haven’t already met. Find out how they became involved with the organization, what their fundraising goals are, and what kind of communication they’d like to receive from you.

Has your organization been involved with any community organizations in the past such as Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, etc.?

If so, make it a point to keep current on the connections. If not, you may want to consider how involvement might benefit your organization.

Your Mission
Probably the most important part about your new job is your organization’s mission and how you relate to it. Your strong passion for the goals and value of your organization will be key to how well you are able to raise funds.

Whether you’re working for a museum, an arts organization, a free clinic, a school, a religious organization, etc., you must be thoroughly grounded and have a strong belief in the mission. Make it a point to learn why your organization was founded, who benefits, and why their services are so important to the community.

Wearing the many hats of a one-person development office is challenging! Make your first 100 days count.

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