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.