Essential Steps for Becoming an Effective Development Director

Effective Development Director
Effective Development Director

As the development director of a small or medium-sized nonprofit, it’s likely that a lot of the fundraising goals and donor management tasks rest in your hands.

As you’re aware, there are a variety of areas you can look for funding — individual donors, major gifts, corporate sponsors, grants. The struggle is, when targeting any of these areas, you’re not necessarily practicing the same strategy.

This can feel like an all-over-the-place approach that ends in you pulling out your hair while asking, “What on earth should I do next?!”

So, how do you figure out where to prioritize when you have limited resources and an immediate need for funding? Take a time out to do some planning to become an effective development director.

Break down your historical budget.

As a development director, you might be focused on future monies coming in — but it’s important to understand where money has come from in the past.

Even if you’ve been with your organization for years, you might realize new trends by taking a look at the historical financial path your nonprofit has taken.

What you need to understand is which percentage is coming from where: if 50% of your organization is consistently funded by individual donors, then 50% of your time should go towards cultivating those relationships and developing communications to keep those individuals giving. The next 15% is from corporate sponsorships, so spend a similar amount of time reaching out to and building rapport with the local business community. And so forth.

But don’t solely focus on history. If you also know that your organization will see more stability by building out more corporate donations, then adjust your percentages accordingly.

If you think about 5 days in a week, each day is worth 20% — so the build out your schedule accordingly.

Create buckets of tasks that fit within each category of financing.

Okay, great — you think — now I know that I should spend 2.5 days working on individual donors. What does that mean?

Take some time to brainstorm all the ways you’re ideally building that relationship to convince donors to give. Your list of Key Cultivation Steps could include tasks such as:

  • Monthly newsletter
  • Write blog post
  • 5 posts/week to social media
  • Phone calls touch points
  • Coffee meetings
  • Thank You letters
  • And so forth …

When you feel your list is comprehensive, set goals for how often you need to complete each throughout the month and find the best way to fit these pieces into your 2.5 day/week schedule.

How do I keep this all organized?

I’ve created a free Cultivation Calendar for tracking prospective donors and making sure you nurture the relationship properly to persuade individuals to give. This can also be modified for tracking corporate donors and other tiers of giving within your organization.

FREE RESOURCE: Download my Donor Cultivation Calendar

Track every prospective donor, and every move you make for a more effective, successful fundraising process.

Download Now

Effective Major Giving Strategy Fuses Story-Telling, Strong Communication

MajorDonor_StrategyCreating and maintaining sustainability for your organization is something that takes time. Adding an effective major giving strategy to the bunch can help add fuel to the fire — however, this approach is also something that takes, you guessed it, time.

When considering your list of past donors, it’s likely there are a number of individuals who are already aware of and support your organization that would be strong candidates for giving big. Consider individuals’ past giving to yours and other organizations, involvement in a volunteer or board capacity for nonprofits and understand factors such as real estate ownership to get a sense of their wealth capacity and aligned charitable attitude. Knowing who belongs on your list helps build an effective major giving strategy.

After creating a targeted list of individuals to add to your major giving “funnel,” you need to be sure to have an individualized game plan for cultivating and convincing that donor (remember, it takes time.) That’s where this cultivation calendar comes in, to monitor that individualized relationship and plan ahead.

But, there’s more to it than just focusing on the person. Take a look at how your organization is communicating with the public as a whole — how well are you translating your story?

Story-telling is a key piece of convincing any donor, large or small, to give. It’s especially essential to an effective major giving strategy.

Major donors want to understand specific impact, and what better way than through a story? While at the heart of it all we’re literally talking about explaining that $5,000 will supply 100 meals to families, those are the details you share in-between the lines. Start with an emotional story from one of those families, explain their hardship and bring readers to tears — this all helps them connect with the impact.

Another great way for major donors to understand your impact is to get individuals involved and volunteering. Stories about your impact alone might not be the final convincing factor. Talk to your current and regular volunteers, and tell their stories. Why do your volunteers commit their time to the cause? What is their take-away? If a major donor understands the feel-good moments of your current volunteers, they’ll be itching to experience their own.

Sprinkle these stories in a variety of places that might touch your major donors — such as on your social media channels, e-mail newsletters and print mailings. But, also be sure to bring up specific details during your one-on-one meetings with your donors (again, but of your strategy on your cultivation calendar). You need to be 100% sure your donor is hearing these stories. Create a brochure that features one of these stories, and send the donor home with it.

Keep major donors connected, keep them engaged and find those emotional ties that speak to the individual. It takes time, patience and strong communication skills — and eventually, you’ll see regular major givers giving, time and again.

A Cultivation Tool for Recruiting, Convincing Major Donors

Use a Cultivation Calendar with Major Donors.
Use a Cultivation Calendar with Major Donors.

Generosity is a key characteristic of a society with a successful and healthy nonprofit sector. On an individual level, nonprofits need to cultivate a varied portfolio for their funding plan in order to maintain a balanced budget.

Just like you would not ask someone to marry you the first time you bump into them on the street, you’ll want to be careful not to ask major donors to give too early in the process. You need to cultivate that relationship, almost like you’re dating!

My last blog post outlined tips on how to maintain this relationship with donors who’ve previously given. But, what about starting a new relationship — and specifically with someone you hope will be able to provide a large sum of money?

Here’s a good place to start.

FREE RESOURCE: Download my Donor Cultivation Calendar

Track every prospective major donor, and every move you make for a more effective, successful fundraising process.

Download Now

Appeal to donors’ emotions. A great first step is telling your story in the right way. Your nonprofit exists to fill a need in the community, but if you don’t position it correctly it’s not always going to easily resonate with your prospective donors. Don’t just share starts or talk about the structure of your programs — start with the human element, tell the stories that move you to tears and put a smile on your face. Get your current volunteers, donors or clients to talk about the impact you’ve made. Show that your organization is real, and you’ll attract attention.

Find the right people. When telling your story as described above, also keep in mind the audience you want to attract. This can often involve understanding the demographics of your current donor base. If you know, for example, that donors with a career in the law enforcement field are more often compelled to donate large gifts to your cause, then create content that more specifically appeals to their interests. Also, don’t be afraid to ask current donors if they have a friend, colleague or family member who might be interested in also supporting your organization — it’s likely they’ll be happy to make that introduction. (Bonus: check out this neat LinkedIn tip for finding new donor prospects.)

Explain the investment. Make it very clear to individuals who donate — before & after they give — where their investment is making an impact. Offer a list of dollar amounts and specific impact so they understand how they made a difference. This also gives the donor the feel good moment and the bragging rights, when they’re able to say, “I saved 3 kids’ lives with my donation to Children’s House” versus, “I gave $1,000 to the organization to make a difference.” Which statement would you rather make? Specific impact helps you, and helps them — win, win!

Cultivate the relationship. It’s important to be proactive and monitor the direction your relationship is headed. This is where things might get a little different than dating … you’re not likely to be planning every next move when your building a romantic relationship — but busy nonprofits should most definitely maintain an accurate record of the past and future touch points with each donor you hope to move into major giver status.

How do you cultivate major donors?

I’ve created this awesome Cultivation Calendar to get your entire team on the same page and give you direction with your major donors. Download this FREE tool now!

After I Do: How to Keep Donors Giving Again

Anything that lasts requires time and attention.Build a Strong Donor Relationship

Your car won’t continue to run for years if you avoid oil changes. A house doesn’t stand for decades on end without proper attention and maintenance.

Relationships, too, are more likely to stand the test of time when they exist in a nurturing environment where effort is put forward to show that relationship matters.

A 50-year-marriage doesn’t happen by accident.

When you start a donor relationship, you should think about the long-term goals of that connection. If a one-time donation is truly all you need, then you may as well stop reading this post — but that wouldn’t be a very sustainable approach.

A donor doesn’t give again unless an organization spends the time properly cultivating the donor relationship, leading to trust, respect and love (platonic, of course).

When you first start interacting with a new donor, there is a lot of “courting” involved. You tell your story, show off some of your great accomplishments and ask them a little bit about their own story.

You woo potential donors with coffee meetings, fancy fundraising galas and other events. (All these steps are likely part of you Fundraising Funnel — if you don’t know what that is, learn more!)

And then they donate. And they fall into your donor base bucket. And then what?

Just like in a marriage that lasts 50 years, you need to stay active in the relationship and continue to show the ways you care.

Here are 3 great tips to cultivating a strong donor relationship guaranteed to last.

Regular communication and gratitude is key. Only talking to your donors when you need something from them isn’t the best way to build a relationship that makes the other feel valued.

When there is exciting new detail about your organization, share it simply to tell people about it — not to ask for funding for it. Did you move into a new space? Share pictures on Facebook and in an e-mail newsletter, and invite donors to an open house so they can get acquainted.

Of course, if someone offers a donation — take it! But you don’t always have to be asking for things when you’re interacting with the people who support you.

Find a balance, and ask when you really need it. If you’ve properly built the relationship, it’ll be an easy ask and an easy answer.

Build your relationships with better story telling.

A Case for Support is a great tool for your organization! Check out my sample & outline to help you get started.

Download Now

That said, open communication is a two-way street. Ask your donors for feedback, seek help in making decisions (when possible), understand your donors’ priorities and reasons for supporting your cause.

What does this look like? Here’s a simple example. At my nonprofit, Positive Every Day Cancer Foundation, Inc., we created a care package to supply to families when they arrive at the hospital after their child has been diagnosed and admitted. We wanted a name that would represent our organization and stand out uniquely.

At a recent fundraiser, we presented attendees with two names and asked them to vote on their favorite.

This simple participation can make them feel like a part of your cause instead of just someone who needs to surrender hard earned dollars to make a difference.

Not to confuse you, but don’t let them think you’re never going to ask for anything again. If you wait too long between asks, people might begin to feel like you’re able to live on without them. They are taking your existence for granted, and your relationship starts to turn into a one-way street in their direction.

Ask when you need to, and don’t always expect a yes. Donors will give again because it is requested of them, but it will also need to be the right time in their lives personally.

What are your best tips for building donor relationships?

How to Secure More Large Gifts from Donors

Large Gifts
Build a trusting relationship to secure large gifts from individual and corporate donors.

As the saying goes, every dollar counts.

Even still, your nonprofit organization is not going to reach a comfortable level of sustainability and growth without large gifts from individual and corporate donors.

Securing dollars like this is part of a trust-building process between your organization and the donor — it’s not something that is going to happen overnight. As you start to work with a variety of large donors, you’ll notice habits and patterns that are more or less successful at convincing donors to give; the strategies that work are a natural fit for your fundraising funnel.

If you haven’t already identified the pieces of your nonprofit’s funnel, check out my list of 5 steps to build a fundraising funnel. After doing this, you’ll soon understanding that implementing a consistent donor communications strategy will also help you achieve moving individuals through the funnel effectively.

If you’ve already got these systems in place, or at least are on your way, you may be realizing one other struggle in securing large gifts: how do I find these large individual or corporate donors in the first place?

If you’ve already tapped out your network, and are seeing the same faces at your fundraising event — a next step might be trying some old-fashioned cold calling.

Before you panic — listen up! In this digital age, cold-calling doesn’t have to be so cold. Think of it instead as making an introduction to someone who might be a really good fit. Research the business’ website, check out what they’ve been up to on social media and find the individual on LinkedIn to better understand who they are and whether a donation to your charity might actually fit their needs.

LinkedIn can also be a great tool for softening the blow when it comes to the outreach: the tool allows you to see people that you already know who are connected to your prospect — so you can use this commonality as a reason to connect.

A message or phone call to someone you don’t know but a friend knows might look something like this:

Hi Amy,

Beth Johnson suggested that we connect. I’m the Executive Director for Positive Every Day Cancer Foundation, Inc., and we often find partnerships with businesses like yours mutually beneficial.

I’d love to connect with you over coffee to chat about what we do and how it might help your company to find out whether there’s a good fit for us to stay connected.

How about Monday morning?

Take care,


When you send a message like this, always (always!) first ask the person you’re going to reference whether it’s OK you mention them in your message. It would certainly be a bad situation if Beth found out from Amy that I connected with her using Beth as a reference.

A message like this is more friendly and less of a pitch — and the end goal is to simply take them to the next step of your funnel.

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