A Development Director's First 100 Days

Jan 6, 2019Leadership

A-Development-Directors-First-100-Days Leadership

A development director’s first 100 days are critical to the organization’s fundraising success.

You have just been hired as the new development director of a small nonprofit. As a matter of fact, you are accomplished, have a proven track record, and come highly recommended. Moreover, you are eager to get started and have your checklist of priorities ready to tackle.

As the CEO/executive director, you want to make sure she gets off to a great start. Of course, you will support her in every way possible. She is there to raise funds for your organization. Not to mention, her success is your success. Remember, she moved from another organization or community because she believes in this organization. She is committed and believes she can make a difference.


Off to A Rocky Start as Development Director’s First 100 Days

In brief, I had just started my new position to oversee development. In an early conversation with the CFO, I asked for last year’s IRS Form 990. Unfortunately, Guidestar did not have the most recent filing. After all, I thought reviewing the IRS 990 with the CFO would be a good starting conversation with the CFO about fundraising.

Not so! I was met with resistance from the CFO. In fact, he said he did not have to share the IRS Form 990 with me. I could get what I needed online.

Markedly, it was a foreshadowing of our working relationship, the lack of transparency, and the disregard to fundraising at that organization. It had been years since someone was in a position to oversee fundraising. In other words, fundraising was not met with open arms.

Indeed, this story illustrates how important it is for the CEO/executive director to set the tone for fundraising at your organization.


In the Development Director’s First 100 Days, Understand the Mission

One of the most critical parts of on-boarding a new development director is to help staff understand the role of a fundraiser. For instance, this is especially important if the role is misunderstood or the position is new at your organization.

Equally important, the development director must intimately get to know the nonprofit’s mission and learn how donors relate to the mission. The development director is to understand the program offerings of the nonprofit. Thus, embracing the values and finding a passion for the mission of the nonprofit will be key to how well the development director can raise funds.

In short, the new development director will want to know why the organization was founded and who benefits; Know why the nonprofit’s services are so important to the community.


Areas of Focus in a Development Director's First 100 Days

In your on-boarding, here’s how you, the development director, should spend the first 100 days:

1.  Meeting One-on-One with CEO/Executive Director

Even though you have recently completed the interview process, go over the job description again line by line with the executive director/CEO. Naturally, you are both more relaxed now. Make sure the expectations of the position are clear. For instance, ask questions to get an understanding of the culture and history of the organization. You will likely be presented with a notebook of important documents. If not, here’s what you should request:

  • Mission, vision, and case for support
  • Strategic Plan
  • Policies and procedures
  • Organizational chart
  • Board members & profiles
  • Organization history
  • Development Plan
  • Stewardship, Communication, and other plans
  • Collateral – brochures, newsletters, and appeals
  • 3-Year History of Giving
  • Major Donor List
  • IRS Form 990


2.  Meeting One-on-One with Staff

Within the first week, find time to meet one-on-one with staff members. Certainly, you want to learn their roles in the organization and how you will be collaborating and supporting each other as a team. Together, you are discerning how the organization will achieve its 3-year strategic and annual goals.


3.  Making an Announcement

It is important for there to be an announcement that you are the new development director with the organization. Therefore, encourage the executive director/CEO or marketing/publicity director to prepare a letter of introduction to the news outlets in your community. After all, this is important because you want people to have heard about your new role at the organization. Hence, you will be calling on leaders in the community. You want people to know you have arrived!

To that end, obtain a professional photographer to ensure you have a flattering photograph. Include an announcement on the website and in newsletters, updates, and reports.


4.  Giving Access to Database

Familiarize yourself with the CRM (Customer Relationship Management). If necessary, seek training. In essence, you want to ensure you have access to all donor information. Certainly, it's important to know the data entry procedures, and have the guidelines related to maintaining good donor records.


5.  Reviewing History of Giving

As soon as possible, review donor giving history over the last three years. For example, set up a time to discuss the major donors in-depth with the executive direct and other staff. Notably, this will help you understand their giving history and motivations before you contact each one.

Also, review the grant funding history, relationships, applications, related documents, and upcoming grant submission schedule.

Certainly, familiarize yourself with past events and any upcoming events. Determine the expectations for each event. If an event is quick on the horizon, make personal reminder calls to major donors about the event to introduce yourself.

Remember, a development director's first 100 days is crucial.


6.  Meeting One-on-One with Board Members

During your first 30 days, you will want to introduce yourself to every board member whom you have not met. With intention, you will discover what motivates them to be involved with the organization. For example, you are collecting stories, identifying why they support the organization, and determining communication preferences. Set dates to meet with board members.


7.  Making Introductions with Major Donors 

Further, you will want to review the profiles of the organization’s major donors. Many of your major donors will be board members. As such, set your goal to meet with each major donor in person (preferred). This should be done within a development director's first 100 days. You will learn about their history with the nonprofit, their connections in the community, and new engagement opportunities. In particular, aim to have meaningful conversations with at least two donors a week.

Loyal donors need attention too. These are the recurring donors who may give only $100 annually. However, they may have given every year for the past five years, for example. With that, you will want to write, call, and meet with as many of these individuals as possible. Persistent givers are ideal for your monthly giving and legacy programs.


8.  Getting out in the Community

The CEO/executive director needs to take you to community events as an opportunity to introduce you.

Without question, fundraising is about relationships, so you need to get out from behind your desk and meet people in the community face-to-face. Most important, consider ways to be engaged in the community.


9.  Reviewing Development, Communication, & Stewardship Plans

Finally, review the communication plan, including social media protocol, local press releases, and CEO’s speaking engagements. Review the newsletters and appeals from the last three years.

Review the guidelines for acknowledging donors’ gifts. Understand the protocol for:

  • Sending acknowledgment letters (within 72 hours of gift receipt please!)
  • Contacting major donors following a gift
  • Deciding who signs each acknowledgment letter
  • Having the board member sign letters to major donors
  • Sending personal handwritten notes to major donors
  • Sending birthday cards and other special touchpoints



In summary, for you to succeed, ask for the executive director/CEO to develop an on-boarding plan for you to follow. Request resources and introductions.

As a side note, I use the word “development” because it is commonly used in the nonprofit industry. There seems to be a trend with nonprofits to use titles that are more donor-centered. Instead of director of development or advancement, consider director of donor relations or advising.

Related to managing staff and yourself, you will want to read Nonprofit Leaders: How to Get Excited Every Day About Your Workday.

Comments: I welcome your comments about how to ensure success with the new hire of a director of development or director of donor relations! Let me hear from you.

Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising coach. She provides executive and development directors with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at nancy@nancyrieves.com.


  1. 29b238f54dac3bd8f14afa170a2a64c9?s=80&d=mm&r=g Leadership


    I enjoyed your article. I am fortunate to be a part of the Leadership Greater Jackson class this year, and our focus will entail community and nonprofit development. This article contains several key elements to consider when being introduced to working with an organization.

    Best regards,

    • 79da72ac698a4b4cbb789e39d0b99f3f?s=80&d=mm&r=g Leadership

      Amber – I am so glad you found value in the article. I love that the leadership classes cover nonprofit service. Philanthropy is such a part of who we are as a nation, and that starts in our communities. Make sure you have my free major gift fundraising plan – https://nancy-rieves.mykajabi.com/yes. It will be of great value!


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