A Development Director's First 100 Days

Jan 17, 2023Leadership

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


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


Flip roles here for a moment . . . As the CEO/executive director, you want to make sure your new director of development gets off to a great start. You will support her in every way possible. She is there to raise funds for your organization. And not to mention, her success is your success! 


Remember, she moved from another organization or possibly another community because she believes in your organization. She is committed and believes she can make a difference.


A Development Director's First 100 Days, Understanding the Role and Mission

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


Equally important, the development director must intimately know the nonprofit's mission and programs and learn how donors relate to the mission. Thus, embracing the values and finding a passion for the cause will be key to how well the development director connects with others and raises funds.


In short, the new development director must understand why the nonprofit is so crucial to the community or people it serves.

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

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


#1 Meet 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!

Above all, make sure the expectations of the position are clear. And ask questions to get an understanding of the culture and history of the organization. 

Likely, you will be presented with a link to important documents. If not, here's a starter list:


  • 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 Meet One-on-One with Other Staff

Within the first week, find time to meet with each staff member, prioritizing those you will be working with directly.  

No doubt, you want to learn staff roles at the organization and how you will be collaborating and supporting each other as a team. Together, you will strategize and achieve goals!


#3 Collaborate on an Announcement

In looking at philanthropy, it’s fundamental an announcement be made you are the new development director with the organization. 

Moreover, encourage the executive director/CEO or marketing/publicity director to prepare a letter of introduction to the news outlets in your community. 

After all, you want people to have heard about your new role at the organization. You will be calling on leaders in the community. And you want people to know you have arrived!

To that end, obtain a professional photographer to ensure you have a flattering photograph. Additionally, during a development director's first 100 days, they should include announcements in newsletters, updates, and reports.


#4 Familiarize Yourself with the Development, Communication, & Stewardship Plans 

To start, review the communication plan, including social media, press release, and speaking engagement protocol. If you have not already, review newsletters and appeals from the last three years.

Definitely, review the stewardship plan and 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 a board member sign letters to major donors
  • Sending personal handwritten notes to major donors
  • Sending birthday cards and other special touchpoints

Without a doubt, ask questions and understand the processes in place.


#5 Familiarize Yourself with CRM

(Customer Relationship Management).

If necessary, seek training on the CRM. No question, you want to ensure you have access to all donor information, know the data entry procedures, and have the guidelines related to maintaining good donor records.


#6 Review Donor History of Giving

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

Not to mention, review the grant funding history, relationships, applications, related documents, and upcoming grant submission schedule.

Furthermore, familiarize yourself with past events and any upcoming events and activities. Determine the expectations for each event. If an event is quick on the horizon, consider making personal reminder calls to major donors about the event Needless to say, this gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself.


#7 Meet One-on-One with Board Members 

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


#8 Meet Major Donors

As mentioned above, you will want to learn about the organization’s major donors. Many of your major donors will be board members. As such, set your goal to connect with each major donor within your first 100 days. With each visit, you will learn first-hand about their history with the nonprofit, their connections in the community, and new engagement opportunities. Aim to have meaningful conversations with at least three donors a week.


Likewise, loyal donors need attention too. These are the recurring donors who may give only $100 annually, but they may have given every year for the past five years, for example. You will want to write, call, and meet as many of these individuals as possible. 

Without question, persistent givers are ideal for your monthly giving and legacy programs.


#9 Getting out in the Community 

While it is a strange and challenging time to connect with people, it's easy to do!

Use the old fashion way of picking up the phone and seeking advice from key people in the community.

The executive director can make introductions to get things rolling. 


Set Yourself Up for Development Director Success

In summary, for you to succeed, ask for the executive director to develop an on-boarding plan for you to follow. Check to see if these items listed are included.

With that, don’t be hesitant to request resources and introductions.

Clearly, this helps you hit the ground running and sets you up for success.


Use of the term “Development”

As a side note, I use the word “development” because it is commonly used in the nonprofit industry. Personally, I love seeing titles that are more donor-centered using the word relations, philanthropy, engagement, for example.

Related to managing staff and yourself, 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 development director, advancement officer, or philanthropy coordinator! Let me hear from you.


Other Resources:


3 Simple Ways to Avoid Costly Political Conversations with Donors

Donors' Motives for Giving in a Crisis

Don't Overlook Your Most Loyal Donors During a Crisis

Fundraise During a Crisis: What's Working?

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.


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