As I See It | Missy Gale, CFRE | President & CEO

Power Up: The Executive/Development Partnership

Executive Directors (EDs), how is your relationship with your development director?

Development Directors (DDs), how is your relationship with your ED?

For a nonprofit to work effectively, the relationship between the executive director and development director is one of the most important organizational partnerships because the two work together to advance mission, vision, and need to attract philanthropic investment.  However, less than half of development directors say they have a strong relationship with the executive director (UnderDeveloped, 2013). So, what’s up here and is this relationship affecting the high turnover rate in development directors that many nonprofits experience?

Clearly the ideal scenario is one where the ED and DD have regular, intentional communication both formally and informally, where there is great chemistry between the two, where there is an understanding of each other’s background, career path and career stage and where there are realistic expectations. Often, even in very collegial environments, roles can become blurry, frustration can set in and productivity decreases. Let’s take the example of a clearly articulated shared vision. The executive director holds the vision for the organization and communicates it internally and externally. The development director shares this vision, working to empower it philanthropically. While slight, the difference here is paramount to success.  When development departments are left to create and communicate organizational vision, philanthropists miss hearing from the organization’s leader undermining their confidence.

Storytelling is the key to communicating the nonprofit’s intent to the community. Stories of impact bring the mission to life. Organizational stories attract donors, volunteers, and staff to support the mission.  Your story as the executive and that of the development director lets philanthropists see competence at various levels within the organization building their confidence. Donors need to feel confident that what they are investing in will have impact on social and community issues they hope to participate in solving.

Developing and managing donor relationships requires the ability for the executive director and the development director to maximize their strengths for complementary relationships. From prospect identification and research to cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, donor relationships advance more swiftly and complementary when interactions are documented, discussed, and assigned relationship management is in place. It’s important that all involved understand and prioritize the donors’ expectations for executive connection.

“Executive directors must be organization centered. Development directors on the other hand must be donor centered. This is the basic difference that the effective executive director must recognize and appreciate.” Tony Poderis from his blog post here.

Misalignment in organizational management = high turnover. When hiring or accepting that next position, I encourage you to discuss some of the key points here. Or, if you haven’t already had this conversation, think about having it. It may not be too late and it may really benefit your nonprofit’s bottom line.

M. Gale consultant’s Clint Riley, MBA and Karen Perry, CFRE recently offered an Executive Learning Session on this topic. Read their slide deck from the session Power Up: The Executive/Development Partnership.


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About the Author

As president and founder of M. Gale & Associates, Missy Gale has dedicated almost three decades to crafting unique strategies and solutions to complex fundraising projects and organizational issues, resulting in transformational fundraising success for her clients. With more than ten years at the helm of M. Gale & Associates, Missy has assisted nonprofits in North Texas and the Southwest in healthcare, arts and culture, social services, and education. Missy is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington and holds the Certified Fundraising Executive credential. She has presented at numerous international, national and regional conferences. In 2014 Missy was honored as the Outstanding Professional Fundraiser by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fort Worth Metro chapter. She has also served as national chair of the Association of Philanthropic Counsel (APC).