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Career Guides

Nonprofit Executive Level: Development: Career Guides

Posted by Mitch Corlett on Jan 15, 2015 10:30:50 AM

Who is your competition for that Chief Development Officer (CDO) or VP of Development job in the Washington DC job market?

When you see a job advertisement, some aspects of the job are obvious. You can envision the kind of work you would be doing, and recognize the new skills you can learn. Maybe you can even take a peek at the 990 tax filing to see the salary of the last person in that job.

But you almost never see your competition for the job, or know what truly drives the hiring decision.

That’s why we’re bringing a little transparency to the hiring process, by pulling back the curtain on the data we’ve collected from our executive searches for Development professionals.


What do you need to know about the scale of Development jobs at this functional level?

Within Development, job titles are linked to functional level largely in terms of scale -- both of amount (or percentage) of revenue produced by fundraising and size of the development staff. A CDO will typically lead a large staff and personally manage a small portfolio of high net value relationships. A Vice President of Development has similar job responsibilities to a CDO, but will typically lead a smaller staff and personally manage a slightly smaller portfolio.

The total amount of fundraising revenue will depend on the breadth and depth of an organization’s programs. Are they local, regional, or national? Do they support affiliates or other subsidiaries? Organizations that employ a CDO or VP of Development are typically large with a breadth of programs that are highly dependent on the success of the fundraising agents -- likely averaging approximately 40 percent of total operational revenue for the organization.


So how will your experience stack up against your serious competition?

Hiring requirements vary widely and are unique to each employer’s situation, but there are a few things that employers usually tell us they want to see in executive-level Development professionals:

  1. Do you have extensive fundraising experience in all areas - individual giving, major gifts, corporate giving, foundation giving, and cross-functional campaigns?
  2. Are you passionate about and personally driven by the organization’s mission? Do you know how to connect donors’ interests to the work your organization does?
  3. Do you work closely with the CEO, CFO, CMO, and the board? Are you integral in leading your organization in fundraising? Are you involved in all decisions affecting fundraising?
  4. Do you develop the strategy that drives fundraising and development activities to meet strategic and budget goals? Do you coordinate with the CFO to advise senior leadership about how development is impacting the organization’s financial health?
  5. Do you collaborate with Marketing and Communications to lead strategy, develop plans, and measure outcomes? Are you involved in the cross-marketing of portfolios?
  6. Are you responsible for evaluating how to diversify the funding portfolio across the organization? Do you create the plan for allocating efforts and resources (i.e., 20 percent from major gifts, 40 percent from the annual campaign, etc.)?
  7. Do you manage a small portfolio of high net-value relationships? Are you personally engaged in 1 or 2 major gift or corporate giving relationships?
  8. Are you hands-on, flexible to work on a fundraising portfolio that needs reinforcement? Do you fill in the gaps? Are you deft at moving from one direction to the next?
  9. Do you have experience leading a development staff? Do you set the strategy and monitor the department’s progress? Do you actively coach, mentor, and advise your team?


And what might prevent you from getting the job?

It is extremely important to have a solid, proven track record. Hiring managers want to see that you have been successful in a job for at least 3 years.

Often candidates do not move forward in this kind of role because the dollar volume of their fundraising experience is not sufficiently high enough. Hiring managers want to see experience designing and running large-scale fundraising efforts, e.g., a capital campaign, as well as having led an organization through a significant strategic change (e.g., expanding fundraising campaigns in support of organization expansion, successfully managing through a shrinking economy or funding pool, or identifying new/un-tapped funding opportunities for an organization and successfully building those donor relationships).


If you aspire to be a CDO or VP of Development, how can you set yourself apart?

We recommend that you:

  1. Work closely with members of the executive leadership team and develop trusted partnerships with board members. Have conversations and interactions that advance your understanding of the organization’s business plan and how development functions drive the organization’s outcomes.
  2. Think strategically. Develop a long-term plan to increase fundraising outcomes. Create and implement a strategy to increase the size of solicited gifts. Conceptualize a new opportunity for donors to support your organization. Introduce a new approach.
  3. Measure your own outcomes. Know how to quantify your achievements and present them to organization’s leaders (e.g., how many people were contacted, your hit ratio).
  4. Find opportunities to present to groups. Volunteer as a speaker on fundraising topics or strategies for local nonprofits or fundraising campaigns. Agree to be a mentor or consultant for a local college or certification course in fundraising or development.
  5. Continuously expand your knowledge and understanding of the sector for which you raise funds. Do webinars or attend conferences. Subscribe to an industry journal. Expand your personal network within the sector.


How do you get yourself noticed by employers?

Just doing the work and developing the right skills is not enough. If you want more career opportunities to come your way, you need to make yourself visible. Highlight aspects of your background that employers will seek out most often. Frame your experience using the same language that employers and recruiters use for the job description.

The numbers matter - state them upfront on your resume. How much funding did you secure with grants? How much revenue did you raise through campaigns? How large is the budget you fund? By what percent did you increase the donor rate? What size major gifts have you attained?

At a minimum, your resume, website bio, and LinkedIn profile should reflect key concepts that help you stand out from your competition. One of the best places to find the right language is in the job advertisements that you find attractive. But to get you started, here is a short list of key phrases used in some of our recent searches:

Fundraising: directed capital campaign, defined fundraising goals, staffed executive leadership, provided tools to close gifts, procured impactful gifts, increased average annual giving, established and spearheaded program
Strategy: aligned with business plan, redirected fundraising, improved organization’s visibility, major gift strategizing, devise and implement strategic initiatives, created moves management process, strengthened connection to mission, develop philanthropy strategy
Leadership: provided strategic leadership to board, member of the executive team, mentors staff to accomplish goals, supporter of volunteer leaders, led advisory board, managed operating budget, led and inspired a team, built a culture of philanthropy within organization, manage the fundraising process, prepared budget projections
Cultivation: implemented a portfolio rating formula, donor-centric program, developed strategies to expand donor pool
Stewardship: oversaw major donor receptions, built the donor base, engaged donors, established protocols for donor engagement

We hope you found this overview helpful.

All of our open searches can be found here. If none of our current searches are a match for you, you are welcome to send us a copy of your resume so we can keep you in mind for future openings. Please email your resume to resumes@staffingadvisors.com, subject line: "Keep me in mind."

As a candidate, what can you do to make hiring more personal?

What exactly improves your odds of creating a strong connection with another human being? How can you get the attention of the hiring manager and make your case? How can you get your point across even when the hiring process is trapped in the land before time? Your ability to tell the right stories about your experience is every bit as important as your experience itself.

The Staffing Advisors team has successfully completed hundreds of executive searches. We know from experience that the job search process is stressful for even the most accomplished executives. But it doesn't have to be. It’s what our Job Search Guide is for.

 The Senior Executive Guide to Job Search

Other Development Career Guides:

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