Before You Fire Your Development Director

fire development director

Let’s start off with two questions.

1) What should Executive Directors and board chairs care most about?

2) What do EDs and board chairs often seem to care most about?

If your answer to #1 was, “The impact of the organization’s work,” 10 points for you.

And if you answered #2 with, “Will we hit our numbers?” You’re 2 for 2.

The reason for this is probably obvious. If the organization misses its numbers it can become a lot more difficult to have the desired impact. A focus on the numbers is hardly unfounded.

One more question… Who is most often the individual held accountable if the numbers fall short?

The Common Answer: The Development Director.

Sometimes it’s even the right answer. Sometimes.

So how do you decide when it’s time to prepare a severance document? Or is there a better solution here?

Read on for my “Before You Fire Your Development Director Checklist.”


Here’s the thing. Sometimes, EDs that complain the most that good Development Directors are very hard to find are the same EDs that actually hit their revenue goals year after year. Even with poor-to-mediocre Development Directors.

And sometimes organizations with a first rate Development Director can fall short.


Before I get to the “Before You Fire Your Development Director Checklist,” it’s essential to remember that a Development Director is a quarterback. Even a great QB needs a good team around him. Not even Tom Brady can win a Super Bowl without a good team around him.

And for those of you hiring your very first Director of Development with no staff support, a) congratulations! b) manage your expectations and c) get out and tell the team you just hired a QB.

OK, now on to the checklist.


1) When was the last time the Executive Director made a direct ask for money to an individual or foundation? If it’s been longer than a month, your ED is part of the problem.

2) Does your board have a fundraising committee? If no, your QB has a gaping hole on the team.

More on building a great Board Fundraising Committee

3) Are the Development Co-chairs of the Board enthusiastic fundraisers? Or were they politely coerced to take the job?  If the chair or co-chairs of this committee do not embrace fundraising, you have a board problem.

4) When was the last time your board had a fundraising training? Longer than a year? Hampering the success of your Devo Director.

5) Is Development on every single board meeting agenda? Important things make it onto agendas. Things that are not seen as mission critical are not. If it’s missing from the agenda because fundraising makes your board feel uncomfortable, that’s too bad. It’s an important part of their jobs.

6) Does each member of your board fill out a fundraising plan at the beginning of each year? This plan should include commitments they are making to ask for money, prospects they believe should be asked for money, corporate sponsors they are connected to, and foundation contacts they have. Where does the Devo Director get her prospect lists? How do you hold board members accountable to make their give/get? With lists/contracts like this. If the answer here is either “no” or “we ask them to but they never do,” the accountability rests with the board chair. Not the Devo Director.

7) Is the Chair of the Board Nominating Committee a timid or reluctant fundraiser? This often happens because otherwise, you’d put her/him on the Development committee. But here’s the problem. A timid board nominating chair will soft pedal the give/get or will say, “We have a great development director and we always hit our numbers,” or, “There are so many ways you can reach your give / get – don’t worry about your rolodex.”  And so what do you wind up with? A weak team that’s not invested in winning.

8) Does your board and staff just love special events? Well, that’s swell but if you’re lucky, $.70 on the $1.00 drops to the bottom line. And that doesn’t include the staff time or the board meeting time dedicated to the centerpiece discussion.  (Promise me that if you ever sit on a board and the conversation moves to the kind / cost of the centerpiece that you will run screaming from the room.) Don’t get me wrong. Special events are a key way to market and evangelize your mission. But each member of the quarterback’s team has to understand that making a direct ask for support is a key part of her/his job. And by the way, the entire time your organization is up to its eyeballs in that special event, individual asks fall by the wayside.

9) Did the ED or the board add revenue to the budget that the Development Director protested?  Yes, I do know Development Directors who low-ball their numbers to ensure success. But many are just realistic. They understand that “money is programs” and they want to raise the most they can. So they submit a number and then are told by Audit and Finance that they need to add another $200K or another $50K someplace. All of a sudden, the numbers no longer belong to the Devo Director. And so why should she be accountable for them?

10) Does the organization have a clear vision, a strategic plan, tangible evidence of success, and stories of impact?  I’m sorry to report but these things cannot be taken for granted in every nonprofit. And without them, your lead salesperson has a much tougher sell.


  • Give real thought to the answers to these questions. Where exactly does the accountability rest? Has your Devo Director been set up to succeed?
  •  Recognize that a Devo Director needs a good team to win. She needs to build a strong staff (if she has that luxury) and she needs a board and an ED who embrace fundraising and who partner with her to succeed.
  • To be fair, you also want to evaluate the extent to which your Development Director has raised the issues she faces and has offered solutions (a good example would be serving up first rate fundraisers as board prospects.) A first rate Devo Director sees these problems and initiates conversations to raise them and offers suggestions about solutions.


As I said earlier, ED’s and boards complain that good Development Directors are really hard to find. Maybe these same ED’s and board chairs need to look at the whole thing differently. It seems high time to redefine what it means to be a successful Development Director.

Next: Learn how your organization can improve its fundraising capabilities.