What’s a Good Director of Development Worth?

Non-profits with resources sufficient to engage professionals in key staff positions seem to find it relatively easy to determine salaries for heads of marketing, finance, and human resources, among others. Development directors however are another story. Why is that? I believe there are several reasons. But perhaps most important is the fact that what is expected of the development director is rigorously defined by the individual situation of the organization. What will be asked of a development director is determined by an organization’s financial condition, board composition, and a host of other criteria highly specific to that organization.

The human resources director of one organization is quite likely to perform just as well in another. But the development director who fits perfectly with organization A’s situation may find her or his skills and experiences a less-than-perfect match to organization B’s needs. Other directors and managers in a non-profit organization need to labor just as hard as the development director. They too need to bring professional skill, a strong work ethic, and integrity to the job. But a development director must add to that mix a sensitivity to both the organization’s resource needs and its donor and volunteer constituency. Development directors are the persons paid to see that the money an organization must have to perform its mission—even survive—is raised from a specific constituency of supporters and funding entities.

High Expectations

All non-profit organizations want a development director who has common sense; works hard; prepares to perfection; is courteous, sensitive, and understanding; exudes unbridled enthusiasm; possesses a positive temperament; and is committed to what the organization is doing. And that’s just for starters. Let’s not forget fund-raising knowledge, management experience, superior organizational and communication skills, analytical capabilities, and the ability to conceptualize. Non-profits want all of the above so that their development director will be ready to design, put together, and manage the organization’s fund-raising campaigns from beginning to end.

A Path to Failure

Unfortunately, far too many non-profit organizations try to get away with paying that person who can do it all at a rate almost guaranteed to deliver a someone ill prepared to take on more than a portion of the mission, and that is the first step to failure. Many organizations compound the problems created by paying too little for a development director by going it on the cheap in a second way. They refuse to acknowledge that the development department performs what one could argue is the most important function in the organization. They give short shrift to its needs and the staff to accomplish them. They hire entry-level people and expect them to perform the work of accomplished professionals, or they ask accomplished professionals to work for entry-level wages. Some shortsighted organizations even require development directors raise their own salaries. I’ve already had my say on that practice.

Contingent-pay schemes are another evil born out of an organization’s unwillingness to assure a fair and reasonable wage to a development director. Their thinking, whether they want to admit it or not, is to ask a development director to perform as a sales person. Development is not sales, and any organization with a belief in its future should be asking its development director to take a longer view—than the next sale with its accompanying commission check.

Another ploy of cheap, shortsighted organizations is to install retired board members as “volunteer” development directors. Such former board members may have been great solicitors or campaign chairs, but they do not have the training, experience, and attitude of a development director. They do not know how to set the table so that volunteers such as they have been, can successfully raise funds from their peers.

Development Directors: Hard to Find
Even Harder to Define

The reality is that the number of non-profit organizations that must conduct fund-raising campaigns has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Well-trained and experienced development directors are in high demand. A perusal of the Sunday want ads in any big-city newspaper turns up a surprising number of open positions for experienced development directors. National non-profit trade journals such as the Chronicle of Philanthropy are packed with such advertisements. Those ads are proof that good development directors are hard to find. One reason is that there is no proven training ground, other than the process of apprenticeship.

Except for colleges and universities, only a relative handful of really large non-profit organizations budget for more than a single professional development position. As a result, the pool of well mentored, experienced development professionals ready to move up to the position of director is a shallow one.

The Market Sets the Price

Far too many variables exist for a simple comparison of salaries of development directors to yield a result that an organization should invariably follow. However, a more complex comparison based on well-thought-out criteria can be a starting place, especially if the comparison is to organizations that closely resemble one another. In deciding which organizations to include in a comparison survey, it is important to determine if the search for a development director is to be national, regional, or local. A survey needs to be based on the geography of the candidate search, the size of the organization, the nature of the organization, and the scope and responsibility of the position.

Whether you’re representing an organization looking to hire, or a development pro in search of an opportunity, you need to know the scope—national, regional, or local—of the market, and you need to know what the going rates are for the specific services in that market. Knowing the market does not mean simply knowing what has happened in the past. What the market paid three years ago is not likely to be what is reflective of market value today. Once again, the variables are just too great for old—and three years is old—data to be valid. The depths of the market need to be plumbed at the time of the search. It’s the old question of supply and demand. What’s the supply today, and what’s the demand today?

Experience figures in salary determination. Usually, the more experienced an individual is the greater his or her value. However, not all experience is equal, and the inequalities of experience are revealed by the specifics of the job. I would be less than likely to hire a well-experienced annual-fund manager to take on the full responsibility for an organization’s planned-giving efforts over someone with half the years of experience but who knows planned giving. If I’m looking for a planned-giving expert and the market in which I am searching is light on qualified candidates, then I’ll have to up the pay rate or search in a broader market. Or both!

Experience And Skills Are Trumped By Wisdom

Another big factor in determining the value added by a very good development professional, and therefore the level of compensation needed, is wisdom. You can, with reasonable certainty, measure a fund-raising professional’s knowledge of the process. You can assess the quality of the tools he or she brings. You can measure by the numbers which measure a fund-raising professional’s experience—years in the field, campaigns undertaken, dollars raised.

But what in many ways can’t be quantified is the wisdom acquired. Wisdom is a quality that either displays or fails to display itself when an individual is called upon to act. Knowledge, skills, and tools are needed components of a good development professional. But knowing the right time to do the right thing in the right way is wisdom gained from the melding of knowledge and experience. We may not be able to quantify the quality we call wisdom, but I think there are factors that are likely indicators of whether an individual with good knowledge and seasoned by appropriate experience is likely in the end to demonstrate wisdom.

I hire and recommend development professionals largely based on issues of temperament and affability. Key factors for me include how well they are likely to deal with criticism, to handle upset or disappointed volunteers and donors, or to show gratitude. Attitude, patience, and the ability to synthesize appropriate action are for me pretty good indicators of the potential for demonstrating wisdom when it is needed. How does one place a dollar value on these attributes—the ones I believe, and which most in the profession believe as well, count the most?

Weathering The Slings And The Arrows

There are no books, articles, videos, CDs, Internet resources, etc., that can help a development director to make the hard decisions and to answer the many different tough questions and to overcome the obstacles and challenges—with wisdom—encountered day after day in a fund-raising campaign, questions coming from all quarters, such as:

  • Why isn’t the money coming in?
  • Why isn’t the money coming in faster?
  • What do you do now that we have lost the campaign Chairperson?
  • Why isn’t the solicitation committee doing its job?
  • What do you do now that our biggest and most promising prospect has said “no?”
  • Should we call off the campaign for now and wait for more promising circumstances?
  • Why aren’t you generating more publicity so the public knows we need money?
  • Do you think we should lower the goal since it now seems we can’t reach it?
  • Shouldn’t you let someone go from your development staff so we can save money to meet the goal?
  • I know we still need a million dollars to reach our goal, but shouldn’t you take your campaign now to the general community and ask for their $50 and $100 gifts? (Try to convince the campaign chair that even if you focus on asking for gifts of $1,000 that you will need 1,000 of those, not to mention needing about 3,000 or so prospects at that level with which to work!)
  • What do you do since our own Trustees are not giving at the rate we had counted on?
  • You are a development professional with experience in fund-raising, and since we board members are not as experienced in asking for the money as you should be, and with our campaign lagging behind, why can’t you make some solicitation calls for us?
  • What are we paying you for anyway?
  • And so they go on and on.

Knowledge, experience, temperament and wisdom will help to whatever degree possible when they are possessed by a development director, especially at that critical time when all heads are turned and all eyes are focused on the development director seated at the other end of the table during a campaign progress meeting and those questions are asked—and are expected to be answered to the satisfaction of everyone.

Meet those requirements, let the organization know you can meet them as its director of development, and with the “right” organization, you have a good chance to set your own worth in terms of salary. Meet those requirements to varying degrees, and you will be paid accordingly. Yes, this is one industry, the fund-raising profession, where you can do more than only work to justify a salary due to you—it’s one where quite often you can even require it.

The Bottom Line

A good development director should be paid whatever it takes to get him or her to accept the job, and that amount will be set by the market. Organizations compromise their survival when they compromise quality in the hiring of a development director. Development directors are asked to make critical decisions about critical work in critical times. Those decisions can make the difference between organizational success and failure. There is no more stressful position in an organization than that of development director.

If you’re thinking about hiring a development director and are trying to determine what she or he should be paid, read that last paragraph again. Then ask yourself what a good development director is worth to the organization. If you’re applying for a development director position and are being asked what pay you will expect if hired, read that paragraph again before you state your worth.

Fair’s Fair

Some of you reading this article might react with indignation or disappointment over my views about what a good development director should be paid. After all, the organization works for the public good, and charitable feelings and attitudes abound in such an environment. If you’re a board member or a donor, you may feel that a development director should be willing to make some compromises when it comes to pay for the good of the non-profit organization and its mission.

Anyone working as a development officer in a non-profit organization has already made those compromises and will continue to do so. I know of no development officers who are paid a salary comparable to what they could earn at a similar level in a for-profit environment.

So the question of pay comes down to one of quality. Organizations that pay the best get the best development directors. The best development directors deliver the best development efforts and raise the most money. It’s up to you. If your organization can settle for a mediocre fund-raising effort, offer mediocre pay. If it can’t, offer a level of compensation that will get you the quality of person you need. If you want the best development director in town, offer the best pay. There is an old expression that describes well the result of trying to save money on a development director’s salary—penny wise and pound foolish!

Those are my opinions regarding the importance of a fair and reasonable attitude for organizations to have when it comes to paying their directors of development. I would be happy to hear from you.


Why I wrote my article: “What’s A Good Director Of Development Worth?”

For a very long time I wanted to write something which championed the cause of overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated development directors. But while I was still working as a member of that glorious “clan,” I felt that I was not in the best position to make the case for my many besieged colleagues.

However, I can now better voice my opinions after my retirement than I could otherwise while still working in that capacity—when perhaps I would be seen as a Director of Development who was feathering his own nest, or one who was in a self-aggrandizing mindset. For my colleagues still at it today, however, I wanted to bring up to the surface some of the feelings I know they must keep to themselves, or which they are otherwise forced to keep submerged.

I was reminded of the many times I would be sitting in the back seat of a box in our Cleveland Orchestra concert hall with my donor/prospect guests nicely ensconced up front in the choice seats. Earlier, they were our guests at a perfect reception and dinner.

On stage, the finest Orchestra in the world was playing the best in classical music for them. They were looking forward to meeting the conductor and other Orchestra notables at a party following the concert. I knew they were greatly satisfied. It was the perfect setting for building donor loyalty and to set the stage for even bigger future gifts.

All of which would have me serenely survey the scene in front of me, then to lean back in my chair, and say to myself, “I made all of this happen! I’m really, really good at this job! They’re lucky to have me!” (No one knew I felt that way until now!)

You should go ahead and feel that way too. And you don’t need to be working for an arts and culture organization to do it. It’s OK for you to privately lavish such praise on yourself when you have those magic moments while working for your particular organization—when you can see the good things that happen because of your hard work and dedication.

Maybe it’s when you see an otherwise severely physically challenged youngster find new vitality and strength as that child is put astride a horse at your Therapeutic Riding Center; seeing the smiles from the hungry as they are fed in your hunger center; as you breathe the clean air your organization is making possible for all in your community; when you are saving and preserving a wildlife refuge; while attending another graduation class ceremony at your school or college; helping to reclaim and repair the life of a rape victim.

In short, whatever the mission of your organization, do have those necessarily secret and personal, but justifiably proud, moments regarding whatever your organization does with your help. Think of it. You are helping to make life possible for scores of people or animals, you are helping to enrich the lives of many others, and that you are generally helping to make life fulfilling for all.

Remember, the work you do behind the scenes makes it possible for others to be in the spotlight as your organization makes positive differences in the quality of life. You will find that your acceptance of who rightfully gets the public rewards and recognition for success will more than ever be personally and professionally satisfying to you. And you should feel good about what you do—very good—but keep it to yourself, and savor every moment of it. You are really, really good at your job. They are indeed lucky to have you.

Those are my opinions regarding the importance of a fair and reasonable attitude for organizations to have when it comes to paying their directors of development. I would be happy to hear from you.

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  1. I am currently working as a summer student at a nonprofit organization and am doing research on the cost/benefit of our organization hiring a D of D. I am wondering about how organizations usually pay for the position. Is it possible to use some amount of the money fund-raised to pay for their wage?

    • Using the above article as a guide, in general, I suggest you then read my article:

      — When The Development Officer Is Obliged To Raise Her Or His Own Salary

      From what you will read, which I know first-hand to be the consequences of having the development professional raising some or all of his or her salary, I believe you can add to your research in a convincing and conclusive manner that such a salary must absolutely be part of the operating budget. It cannot, it should not, be left up to the development professional to go hat in hand seeking money to pay his or her salary.

      See again our listing of all articles:

      Scroll down to the section titled “Development Team” where you will see the two aforementioned articles. See a number of others which are directly related to the staff development professionals’ temperament, skills and duties.

  2. I take issue with your comment, “Contingent-pay schemes are another evil born out of an organization’s unwillingness to assure a fair and reasonable wage to a development director.” I submit that the motivation is not always “evil”.

    As the director of a small non-profit organization we simply do not have funds to waste on an employee that cannot perform. If the new hire is worth his weight in salt he will perform and he will be compensated fairly if not generously.

    We are looking looking to hire a director of development and he/she will be the second highest paid employee of the organization! We are certainly not short sighted or unwilling to assure a reasonable wage, we just simply don’t have the funds to play with.

    • Patrick,
      OK, maybe “evil” is a bit harsh.

      Not meant in its literal sense.

      I was the first-ever Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra. Hired in 1972 with a million dollar deficit over two years prior, with all years before that having but a four-digit year-end net loss or gain going back to inception in 1917.

      When I attended my first meeting of the Board, the Board President introduced me as a “necessary evil.” I guess the word can take all sorts of forms.

      In my article focused totally to argue against Contingent-Pay, I list a goodly number of consequences (tempered evils) which can and do happen when development compensation is made on a contingency basis. (If that is the way you are going.)

      — The Argument Against Paying Development Professionals Based Upon The Amount Of Funds Raised For Non-Profit Organizations

      I don’t know if it’s motivation which has a non-profit pay its development person on a bonus, commission or percentage-of-funds-raised basis. More like necessity or poor judgment, born of the inability or unwillingness to pay a fair and reasonable annual salary.

      No non-profit should have any of its donors’ funds wasted on any employee who cannot perform well. The development professional “market” will provide candidates for the job whom you can relatively easily evaluate and have a good sense of how they will work out. That observation from what you wrote in the second paragraph, and the assertions made in the last, suggest to me that contingent-pay for your upcoming new development hire is the way you are going. No evils there, perhaps, but certainly serious and troublesome consequences are possibly ahead.

    • Patrick,

      I want to add my two cents on a couple of points.

      Using an annual pay amount to motivate an individual charged with managing fundraising efforts can be dangerously shortsighted.

      I have been a development director and the CEO of nonprofits. As CEO part of my job, a large part, was to motivate my staff to produce the best work possible in the interest of my organization.

      I knew that if I concentrated on money as the chief motivational tool, I was setting up my organization for disappointing results. Research has shown that money is not really a tool for delivering job satisfaction. The absence of money does bring about job dissatisfaction, but the reverse is not true.

      A person needs to be fairly paid in her job in order not to be dissatisfied. But the addition of more pay past that point does not make the person more satisfied with the work he is doing.

      The solution to getting great performance out of a development professional is three fold: Hire well, manage well, and provide the tools, resources, and support needed by the person you hire.

      Good, supportive management on the part of the executive director requires that the XD be involved in the efforts of each of his direct reports. In this day and age, the XD who does not take an active role in fundraising is failing to carry out a major responsibility of her job. The smaller the organization the truer this is.

      The second point I want to make is about the danger of convincing a development director that her primary responsibility to the organization is to raise as much money this year as possible.

      The responsibility of all senior staff is to support the organization in carrying out its good works and in helping to shape a continuing viable future for the organization.

      Unless the organization is on the ropes, raising the most amount of money possible this year is not the way to meet that responsibility. A development director needs to work to raise the money needed for current operations and to nurture the relationships and environment that will provide a sufficient future flow of contributed income.

      How much money is raised this year is not a direct indicator of a successful fundraising operation for the future. In fact, a development officer working to increase his compensation this year can be sorely tempted to sell out future success in order to achieve current gain.

      After all, he is only a hired gun. He knows that his future is only as secure as this year’s results. There is more than a possibility of creating a get-it-now mentality and encouraging the development director to be ready to move on when the well begins to go dry due to too much pumping. Past and current successes are what will be on his resume. Future shrotfalls are on the XD and the soon to be hired new development director.

      Hire the best you can afford, pay fairly, manage well, and provide support. Do that, and if your organization has a valued mission and the capability to carry it out, you will achieve fundraising success.

    • “worth your weight in salt”? Have you checked the price of salt recently?

      • Very chief (few price)

  3. Susan: Bear in mind that I sincerely appreciate your warm and complimentary words of support and encouragement for what I provide free on my website when it comes to sharing my hard-earned knowledge from nearly forty years as a non-profit professional.
    However, and I regret to say, my take on what you are proposing, and what the organization wants from you, will be a major disappointment, presented with as much tact as possible I can muster, but nonetheless, I am coming down hard on the plan you are working toward.

    It appears you reached an article of mine independent from finding it initially posted on my website, thus it may seem to be a stand-alone article. However, from the link following to the Table of Contents for all of the seventy-plus feature articles (including the one you read), you will see one of the most prominent and unwavering threads though out; that being my (and the fund-raising industry’s) strong argument against the practice of having professional solicitors asking for donations.

    — Table of Contents

    I respect your open and confident approach to being just that—a professional solicitor, and the “independent contractor for donor solicitation” appellation does not, in my opinion, make the practice any better.

    I see your significant and capable expertise from conducting market research surveys through interviews. Coming from the non-profit world, I have as well many times conducted somewhat similar programs as fund-raising campaign Feasibility Studies, but two key points always held from those efforts.

    (1) I charged a fixed, assessed-early, project fee—never per interviewee.

    (2) I absolutely never even hinted at the idea that the interview subject would be a donor to the project. I was a paid interviewer only to get his or her opinions and impressions regarding the proposed campaign.

    To trigger in advance of a fund-raising campaign (which was in the process of being determined for its feasibility in the first place), any such solicitation from an outside paid consultant, would never elicit favorable and meaningful pledges to that consultant, rather than later being asked by peers having the proper influence, asking at the right time for the right amount.

    — Campaign Feasibility Studies:  Taking The Time To Find Out Whether The Time Is Right

    Here is where the going may get tough, but not if, when you read the next article, you understand that my harsh (with good reason from extensive experience) language does not at all apply to your integrity—only for you to apply the consequences, serious ones at that, which always befall organizations which hire outside fund-raisers, and worse, those being paid on a percentage, bonus, or commission, contingent-pay basis.

    Look past the name-calling (well deserved for most out there as “hired guns”), and read only the serious consequences of putting an organization’s fund-raising fortunes in the hands of outsiders who get a slice of what is raised, and whom, for the most part, are transient—thus negating any chance of long-range cultivation and retention of donors when the organization’s volunteer leadership and staff keep up the relationships year after year.

    This article tells it like it is: And even with your integrity and good intentions, were you to go the way you are proposing, long-term good for the organization is highly unlikely.

    — Asking For The Money Is The Job Of The Leadership And Friends Of A Non-Profit Organization:  Never Hire Someone To Do What Is Their Responsibility

    I hope you will reconsider and see how the proposition is not a good one.

    Remember, were you to interview me as part of a survey, a market research endeavor, I would gladly respond to any and all of your questions.

    But, to sit across from me as a paid solicitor, asking as a stranger, or even with some previous association, for a truly major donation (or any amount), I would look at you in a totally different way, and not at all be amenable to committing my money in that way, no matter my personal regard for you or the organization.

    You would be coming at me as nothing more than a paid solicitor, and no matter your belief in the organization, I would wonder where in the world was the board of trustees when they want my money. They are entrusted to the fortunes of the organization, and they must be “the” fund-raisers.


  4. Dear Tony,
    As I am googling away in an attempt to write a proposal for independent contractor donor soliciation for a well established and well known non-profit I strongly believe in and have worked in the cause for several years…I ran across you article.
    After speaking to their CEO and being considered for their in-house DD job, they would now like to hire someone else for that specific position and have me work as a consultant to do prospecting for the West Coast and perhaps clean up some of their contacts via market research. I have several years of experience conducting and billing for market research projects but I have not billed for soliciting donors.
    Question: What do you think is a fair price to charge to solicit a top notch donor i.e. a Sarnoff (thought you might know that one)…for a large donation (over 100,00 to a million lets say)…and how much should I charge for correspondence and closing the deal.
    Normally, in market research to get a high level interview the charge would be approx. $500 per person, just for an interview with giving that person a $350 incentive. This would be a CEO, Chief General Counsel, Surgeon…etc.
    I think it would be realistic to solicit about 20 high level people per month and that if my contact has both east and west coast offices…I should still be able to contact or meet with them when they are not on my coast.  Your opinion please???
    Totally appreciated your article and look how many years you are still getting responses.
    Congrats and you should be proud of yourself for all the help you provide for others. 

  5. Jeri: Thank you. My simple response to the question at the end of your posting is that there can only be such “evidence” from the inside—that is, beginning with what the results were from “Year One.”

    Year one would have a fund-raising plan, and the results would set the stage for hoped-for growth into the second year, and beyond. No outside evidence would be of any value.

    And, I urge that any projections of contributed income and overall development growth and progress not be solely or mainly on the shoulders of the Director of Development. Fund-raising, the best fund-raising, is a complete team effort, and it would be unfair and unreasonable for any organization to focus its success or failures on the staff professional alone whose job it is to help put together the plans and the tools for the volunteer leaders of the organization to use.

    Development Director “Performance” (DDP, let’s say here), is not based on the premise, “if the new DD increased revenue …, since that sets the stage for DDP to be related mostly to money that person is personally expected to bring in, or even to be held accountable when fund-raising goals are not met when the leadership does not do its job.

    I think that to seek to identify and establish DDP, one should look at such a complex and amorphous attempt at measurement by looking outside of the development department elsewhere in the organization to know just how effectively the leadership is serving as the true and necessary fund-raisers—and how well the DD is serving them.  The board of trustees and other fund-raising volunteers are the ones who raise new and increased donations year after year.

    DDP is going to be strongly influenced by so many factors, such as:

    —Significantly high startup costs for the new person, support staff, and development operations can greatly influence the annual bottom-line.

    — Initial "investment" costs for new major campaigns, such as for capital, endowment, sponsorships and underwriting. All to take time, maybe years, i. e., the word “development” in our profession. These long-term efforts significantly influence when and how much money comes in.

    — Focus on telefunding, direct mail, and Internet fund-raising activities differs from organization to organization.

    — Impending and costly new and expanding program and service initiatives to be installed as directed from the long-range strategic plan, will certainly impact DDP.

    — How much, how little, or not at all, the Board of Trustees directly assist and participate in the development activities.  (This makes a huge difference from non-profit to non-profit regarding how development staff is evaluated and of course it directly affects the increase or decrease donations.)

    — The quality, skills, experience, and capability of any given development staff person can and do range far and wide, again to greatly influence DDP.

    — All too often, a development person is required to perform other activities within the organization which are out of the fund-raising activity, such as handling marketing, PR, communications, etc., thus further complicating an assessment of the development staff’s carrying out their responsibilities and their effectiveness.

    — DDP and bottom-line accountability as well depends on the degree of coordination required and desired with fund-raising volunteers, and the number of them organized and managed in order to carry out the various campaigns and special events to their fullest capacity and effectiveness.

    In summary, Year One’s well-crafted development plan, and how well it is carried out by many participants, sets the stage for expectations in Year Two, and beyond. That is the only way to evaluate fully the effectiveness of the DD and the fund-raising team and to forecast the next year’s results.

    — Develop Your Fund-Raising Plan With Consensus

  6. Great article–I have a related question. For an organization that has been around for almost 30 years but not had a DD before, is there a growth timeline available? In other words, if the new DD increased revenue by 15% the first year, what could you expect for the second year (and so forth), assuming performance and the economy are roughly equal? I'm thinking about the time it takes in Year One to establish relationships, learn the organization's culture, train leadership about their roles, etc. Is there any evidence that could allow one to confidently say, "And in Year Two we anticipate…"?

  7. Anna: No percentage, no bonus, no form of contingent-pay of any kind should be involved. The two staff members should be paid a fair and reasonable salary, or if they are not full-time, paid to a fixed rate based on projected hours to be expended, using an hourly rate in keeping with good judgment.

    You may need to talk to other event planners to try to come up with an hourly rate which you can apply to the estimated hours of work you expect those individuals to put into the event—or come up with a fixed, flat rate, figure based on the project in its total scope.

    What you earn as gross income, and what the actual net proceeds will be, are two figures which will be watched closely at the end, so you must take great care regarding what is paid to the planners which could be out of reason.

    Talk to the event specialists at a few non-profits in your area. Just about any major organization produces fund-raising galas and other events as the one you may be planning. Talking to such specialists is the only way I would know to get from them an idea of how their full time compensation could be adapted to what you are doing on one-time, part-time, basis. The orchestra, ballet, opera, local Cancer, MS and MD chapters, etc., all have staff persons who usually are responsible for managing special fund-raising events.

    Think how next to impossible it would be to fix a percentage. What percentage figure in the first place? (There is no such typical arrangement). A percentage of what? The gross income? If so, what if the net proceeds are low, you break even, or even have a net loss? Giving the planners a percent of net proceeds could leave you with little, to nothing, to show for the time, effort, and expense put into the event.

    And if the two staff members who are planning the event, have other duties not related to event planning, then you must make certain they are the right people for the job. Rather than planners, they may better be coordinators between a crack volunteer event planning and production committee. Being a thirty-year old organizations, surely you have trustees, volunteers, and other advocates who would be better planners for the event. Be sure to read and use my article:

    — Your Organization's Next Special Event:  "Fund-Raiser" Or "Friend-Raiser?"

  8. Our development department is brand new for a 30 year old organization, thus salary expectation is new in our organization.  There are two staff on the team planning our large 30th anniversary fundraising event and we are wondering what is typical for bonuses in response to the event's success.  Is this usually done by a percentage?  If so, what is a reasonable percentage? 

  9. Siobhan: From both sides, I well understand. I began my non-profit development professional career under the mentoring of a caring, experienced and talented professional. Once established, I worked to to continually extend the same opportunity to individuals who had little, or no, experience. One of the ways was to compose a road map of sorts for those having the spirit and interest in learning and working the development profession. I think it to be the best way, and if you follow the suggestions to the letter in the following article, I feel confident that something good will come your way. Best wishes for success.

    – Beginning A Career In Non-Profit Fund-Raising

  10. I have about ten years of telephone fund-raising experience as well as a BA in Communication. I am currently a care provider at a mental institution. In my current job I was faced with a customer service dilemma that most of the staff were not able to address, to make a long story short I satisfied the demands of a patient’s angry parent. Since then,and I will be honest before then, I missed fund-raising and working in the nonprofit charity sector. Before this experience at my current job and reading this article I didn’t think I had the experience or chops for a development position but now I am thinking again. I would like to break into development and would one day soon like to become a director of development. Do you have any advice on where I may be able to glean more experience and wisdom for the field? I don’t think I am prepared right now but I don’t know what I can do to prepare myself.

  11. Good, Machelle, I am pleased to have given you more to bring such boards into reality. In development, you usually get what you pay for.

    To help counter the other type of narrow thinking you described—the forcing of the wearing of additional “hats” by the development officer—to get their money’s worth, do use the arguments I describe in the following article:

    — Wearing Those Development and Marketing “Hats” at the Same Time:
    A Bad Fit and a Headache

    As well, sadly, such boards often cut and eliminate important programs in general, to make ends meet, rather than themselves picking up the plans and tools available to them to raise the money needed for a vital and worthy organization. Far too often they look to others to do the job they were entrusted to carry out. That’s why they are called trustees.

    However, to be fair, I have found, more often than not, that the barriers thrown up by board members to taking on fund-raising responsibility, cover their basic insecurity and ignorance of the fund-raising process. They often are reluctant and loath to ask for money because they fear personal rejection. They fail to take into account that they are asking for support of an organization to which they are committed and in which they believe. Getting them on the true path of fund-raising purpose usually begins to have them accept and take on a fund-raising role when they remove their ego from the asking process.

    On that positive note, maybe this one will help too:

    — How Board Members Can Become Effective Fund-Raisers

  12. Just stumbled across your article.
    I work with a number of small non profits. I am finding it difficult to find tangible documentation to persuade them to pay their Development Directors a respectable wage. I appreciate very much your talking points regarding value and how to articulate it with boards who do not make the connection.
    To justify paying the poor schmuck, they expand their job descriptions to include marketing, public relations, advertising, strategic planning, recruitment, retention, event planning, dish washing and toilet cleaning. When they are not performing these task, the directors are expected to identify, qualify, cultivate, solicit and steward donors.
    Boards are often not selected for their development capacity and will be the first to block development potential from entering the board with comments like, “no one should be able to buy their way on the board”. When I hear this comment I know it is code for, “don’t let any bigger dogs in my pound”.
    Shew…I feel better already.

  13. Tony-
    Thanks for your clear and detailed answer! :)

  14. P. S. To Elizabeth’s good question, to which I responded above, I was prompted to recall what was an experience regarding the contingent-pay bonus issue, which I had encountered as a consultant for a major non-profit organization.

    During my sixteen months of service for that organization, I worked a great deal to develop and fine-tune fund-raising plans where there had been none previously.

    Annual, Endowment, Capital, Sponsorship, and Underwriting campaigns were all fully developed, and were phased into the duties of the organization’s first-ever Director of Development, whom I helped hire as well through the total process of “call for resumes,” screening of candidates from the resumes, personal interviews with the top ten candidates, then to recommend the top choice for the final interviews with the organization’s CEO and Board. He was hired on a straight salary while I was there.

    Soon, he was up and running nicely, and I concluded my engagement. In a routine phone call I made some months later just to check in to see how he was doing, it became readily clear that he had not progressed much, if at all, in the development of any fund-raising campaign but the Annual Fund. No cultivation activities were in operation, or any effort expended for long-term funding—he was just totally driven to get to the Annual Fund number goal set out for him.

    Why? Because, after I left, the next salary review had him set to work to a bonus of $5,000 to be given to him should he meet the Annual Fund goal by the end of the campaign and Fiscal Year.

    Just about all of the warnings I give in my article (cited above) were at work in this case. And, I rest my case. There was to be no future in that particular development operation, because the “future” was only “now.”

  15. Elizabeth:

    That is not traditional. What is, or should be, traditional, is that the D of D is evaluated for a possible merit raise, as an increase in salary.

    What you described is what we term, “Contingent-Pay.” And, to my way of thinking, it is the wrong thing to do. Even so, how can all agree upon what is a “substantial” bonus?

    Finishing above the goal is a good thing. It could be the result of extraordinary work. But it also could be the result of serendipity. It could be because the goal was set low in the first place.

    Conversely, finishing below goal, could be the result of a faulty job. But the goal could have been set too high and was totally unreasonable. Beyond the control of the Development Director, there could have been major losses, again through no fault of the D of D.

    You get the idea. So, finishing above (or below) the goal has far more going for it than the number alone.

    More important, once such an end-of-campaign bonus is won, human nature takes over, and the eyes of the D of D will be on the next campaign’s year-end prize, with mostly, if not all, sole and narrow focus toward the finish of that year, and not much, if anything, expended or considered for cultivating and processing resources to groom for future contributions. Why do forward-thinking when you are looking for a year-end bonus based on this year’s performance?

    You can read all about that in my article:

    — The Argument Against Paying Development Professionals Based Upon The Amount Of Funds Raised For Non-Profit Organizations

  16. Hi-
    I was wondering what most Development Directors are rewarded at the close of a campaign? The Development Director that I am thinking of came on as Development Director to a school in campaign mode and for 4 years ran her department and campaign to finish above the campaign goal. Traditionally isn’t this type of success rewarded with a substantial bonus?

  17. CC: A Director of Development does not need to have a degree, and most do move up the ranks. But if up the ranks was not in fund-raising, but in the front office in non-fund-raising-related activities, then the individual may not have the depth and breadth of experience and knowledge needed.

    The assistant should not have any expectations that she be personally responsible for raising any amount of money. Same goes for the D of D. They should be working to develop the plans and the tools for the board and other volunteers to use to raise the money needed.

    And, as much exploration and research as possible should go toward identifying likely prospects for grants to fund specific programs, services, and projects, with strong focus on obtaining annual funding from the board, other individuals, corporations and foundations.

    If the money need to balance the books is that $10,000 per-month, times twelve months, then the organization has a clear goal. No matter, whatever amount is needed at the end of the fiscal year to balance the books, that is the goal.

    Thus, the organization needs to get busy to meet the goal by developing a campaign to be sure to seek renewed gifts, obtain increases, and to solicit new prospects. All of the ways to do that are to be found on this website.

    Click onto “Articles” in the top menu to be able to access ways to conduct any fund-raising campaign. Perhaps a good place to start is for your leadership to review the forty-two fund-raising-ready assertions in the following article. It is easy to do the review, and doing it, will tell you all you need to know about the steps you must take.

    — Check Out Your Organization’s Fund-Raising Readiness And Learn The Secret Of Fund-Raising Success

    The Executive Director and Board President must take leadership to begin the process in the right way. If the D of D is not able to perform in the ways such fund-raising managers must, then the Board must get someone who has that capability.

  18. I work at a non-profit with a “development director” who does not have a degree, has moved up through the ranks working in the front office over many years. In addition, this individual has a full-time assistant under her. She does not write any grants, and has low overall expectations as far as fundraising (I believe it is $120,000 for this year and this is the highest it has been for a long time). Our organization is now facing over $10k a month in rent, and also employs approximately 30 people. What is a reasonable expectation in fund-raising of an individual in this position? I am one of the professionals in this organization, and feel that we have not taken this position seriously in the past and currently are not properly staffed for this position. Any assistance in acquiring more help in this field would be appreciated.

  19. Greg: Welcome to the possibility that you may, in time, get your start in this great and rewarding profession. I think that you are off to a good start with your reading of my article regarding the “worth” of Directors of Development. I have several other Development-Director-related articles which I feel sure will add to your learning process.

    Return to where you found my article. Do that by clicking onto the link following which takes you to the Table of Contents of all our articles:

    Scroll all the way down to the last section, “Developing The Development Team.” There you will see those articles to read, moving first to this one:

    — Beginning A Career In Non-Profit Fund-Raising

    Then, read the rest of them.

    Unfortunately, there is little class room or reading activity which can land one a top job most anywhere right off the bat. The dreaded word “experience,” is always put forth first by any interviewer. You must first work under the wing of a seasoned, capable, and willing-to-teach professional, and the article above provides what is, to me, the best way to get into the door and begin the growing process as you depart college. While admirable for whatever reason you are first targeting a “prestigious university,” I urge that you do not pass up any opportunity to gain knowledge and experience under the mentoring of any good pro, no matter the type or size of the organization. You can later, when you have the experience, call your own shots. But take hold and run with any good and promising initial opportunity to learn and gain experience.

  20. What is your first career step out of college with the ultimate goal of becoming a development director at a prestigious university.

  21. Lorrie: Twenty different areas of one person’s responsibility, may be somewhat of a stretch, but you are on the right track, because even with but two different areas of responsibility, the D of D can as well have a nervous breakdown. To me, the D of D job is a 100% + activity.

    Adding to such horrid working conditions imposed by a board of trustees, would be to have the Executive Director, alone, expected to be the ED, D of D, Marketing Manager, Finance Manager, and then some. (Come to think of it, we may be on our way to twenty different areas.)

    It is a really serious situation in which far too many good people find themselves maybe heading for that nervous breakdown. I have seen it all too often.

    My following article is intended to bring some sanity to the organizations’ leaders having such unreal expectations, and in fact, on the other hand, warn the D of D who takes on the wearing of those several hats to beware.

    — Wearing Those Development and Marketing “Hats” at the Same Time:
    A Bad Fit and a Headache

  22. In your list of questions you left of one that I can think of while reading job descriptions. “Why do non profits believe that one person can succeed in twenty different areas without having a nervous breakdown? That’s probably the reason why there is so much turnover in our profession. I envy the DD that runs an actual department made up a special events coordinator, marketing coordinator, website administrator, etc. I say pay less to one person and hire a few more!

  23. to whom it may concern,
    what a truth about what you said, take pride if you really did promote some public felicity in the lives of others. I don’t know about you but I miss it, and I’m going back to it after ten years of construction. To help deliver a person into a state of bliss even momentarily, is worth so much more than the paper given to accomplish it. I won’t get religious now but I’ll close with charity never fails.


  24. Holly: I feel confident that your reading of my following article will answer all of your questions. It was developed especially for organizations pondering how or when to hire their first staff development professional:


    Adding to what I say in that article, I wanted to remind you that fund-raising needs/goals, leading to, among other things, the establishment of a staff development operation, must come from your organization’s long-range strategic plan.

    It is the long-range strategic plan which determines what will be done to carryout the mission’s ongoing, regular, and future initiatives. That planning exercise tells you how such programs, projects and services will be done, who will do them, when they will be done, and how much they will cost. This is how fund-raising goals are made known; the amount needed to be raised after any earned income is deducted from the original operational deficit figure.

    Thus, to raise that money to meet those goals, a general development plan outline is devised, and under that “umbrella,” the organization’s various fund-raising campaigns take form, in your case, being newly formed, no doubt to focus only/mainly on developing a strong Annual Fund Campaign.

    Here is where a development “audit” or evaluation/assessment is critical in order to know how to structure the proposed department and its staff regarding its ability and responsibility to plan, produce, implement, and to service those fund-raising campaigns to the satisfaction of your Board and other volunteers.

  25. So- what do you suggest to a newly formed 501(c)(3) running the only school based health center in the eastern half of Washington State and being based in a small town- How do we address the need for a development position. What steps can we take to help grow to where we might launch out with a true Development Professional?

    I would be interested in hearing or being directed to some of your thinking?
    Holly T. Howard-
    Executive Director,

    PS- those quiet moments of reflected pride are indeed key-


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