Nonprofit Executive Director and Director of Development: The Relationship?

Sep 13, 2021Donors, Fundraising, Leadership, Nonprofits, Philanthropy

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For nonprofit organizations, there is no internal relationship more important than that between the executive director and director of development. 

I remember how frustrated I was when I could not get a meeting set with my boss. Notably, there was no response to my requests for meetings. Worse, I had a major donor upset because my boss would not return his call! 

In fact, this was when I was raising significant money for the organization. Needless to say, that was the beginning of the end at that organization. I lost trust and felt disrespected.

Build Stronger Relationships

Are you struggling to strengthen or repair your relationship as a nonprofit executive or director of development?

If so, let’s look at how to foster trust, communication, and a healthy working relationship: 

#1 Have Strong and Regular Communication

First of all, communication is one of the most important parts to a good relationship between the executive director and director of development.

No question, it is the executive director’s responsibility to share decisions made and actions required. With that, it’s important to create an environment in which feedback is encouraged and adopted. 

Since everyone has their preferred communication style, it’s essential the executive director and director of development establish an easy and comfortable flow in communicating. Actually, speak daily and understand each other’s workload and priorities. 

#2 Know Your Roles 

Certainly, the executive director must lead the entire organization – people, programs, board, finances, etc — and ensures the mission is effectively fulfilled. No doubt, the executive director is the public face of the organization. 

Moreover, the director of development’s primary responsibility is the coordination and implementation of giving opportunities. They are to develop and maintain relationships with donors, partner, and stakeholders so they support the organization and have a rewarding giving experience.

With that said, the executive director and the director of development are to work closely together determine when the executive director is needed in the donor giving process. No doubt, the executive director engages with high-level fundraising. The development director can’t possibly singlehandedly bring in the money the organization wants and needs.

Particularly with major gifts, the executive director participates in the strategy creation and meets with donors to ask for their financial support. In fact, at times the executive director spends significant time in direct fundraising – as much as 50% of their time.

Without the support of the executive director, the director of development is frustrated, and the organization will not reach its full fundraising potential. 

No doubt, fundraising is a team effort.

Each should respect and support the other.

#3 Trust and Respect 

Certainly, the executive director and director of development should get along well and have a close, working relationship. 

The executive director trusts the development director will oversee the fundraising process at the organization. At the same time, the director of development trusts the executive director has her back and is not alone advancing donor relations and capitalizing on funding opportunities, especially major gifts. 

Absolutely, the two have to be on the same page or the relationship will not work and the organization will suffer.


Bottom line: The Executive Director and Director of Development should function as a close partnership. Clearly, they must work in lockstep to ensure their nonprofit succeeds.

Related Articles

Nonprofits: Is your CEO hesitant in asking individuals for money?

How much of an Executive Director’s Time Should be Spent Fundraising?

Nonprofit Leaders: Here’s your Silver Bullet


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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