Development Officers Are Not Normal (thank goodness)

If “normal” is the rest of your staff or culture, then your development staff is not normal.  Don’t manage them that way.

I reminded a former boss, a university president, that development people come to the table with a different mix of characteristics and skills, and to want to have them managed like other staff, or, heaven forbid, like academics, was a huge mistake.  No organization should expect the development officers to be like the rest of the team members.  The people in fundraising should be viewed through different lenses in order to keep them inspired, involved, engaged and successful.  Fundraisers truly want to … raise funds.  Empower them; enable them; get out of their way.

They can communicate, but don’t assume they should be the speech writer, columnist, op-ed writer, brochure content writer, and so on.  There is a time and place to use their specific messages, but too often a development officer’s abilities to communicate are assigned to a variety of needs which then keeps them from working on the relationships and communications that lead to successful fundraising.

They can connect, but don’t send them “out there” to connect to every organization, entity, individual and constituency.  Focus them and their characteristics/personality/knowledge to the audiences with whom they will most likely be able to make meaningful connections.  The “go find us some friends who might be able to give us money” model will not accomplish much and may fail miserably.

They can be convincing, but don’t expect them to convince others to give. It is far better to use their abilities to communicate, connect and convince to then inspire gifts, not convince people to give.

They can strategize, but don’t put them on all types of committees and groups because they have the ability to see a goal and strategize on how to get there.  Development officers can apply their concepts of “moves management” to a variety of projects and needs, but don’t fall for the temptation.  Let them do their magic with donors and potential donors.

They aren’t sales people, but they sell.  They sell the intangibles of an organization’s cause and mission; they sell the idea of legacy; they sell the feeling of accomplishment for making change happen; they sell ideas.  They sell a lot, but they aren’t selling widgets.  They should be managed, incentivized and empowered in ways that keep them on track of goals, but with a blend of both quantitative and qualitative outcomes, and with both subjective and objective evaluations of what success looks like.  Be clear, consistent and then … let them fundraise.

They aren’t activists, but they are in the business to make a difference.  A development officer whose only motivated by the quantity of dollars coming in is unlikely to be developing the sort of relationships that lead to planned gifts and serendipitous support.  Development officers want to make a difference; let them, remind them how they are; celebrate the differences they make.  Give them a purpose, and not just goals.

Oh yes, I also believe development officers are not the golden children of an organization.  They succeed because of the great jobs done by those in the trenches, those sending out messages, those answering phones, and so on … they are able to take the best of what everyone else does and show others how worthy those efforts are of support.

Development officers are not normal … thank goodness.

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