What Nonprofits Want to See When Hiring a New Development Director
Living and working as a nonprofit staffing recruiter in Washington DC—Adele Borbee works directly with some of the sector’s leading nonprofits. Serving causes such as direct social services, healthcare advocacy and housing: she’s placed top Development Directors with 501(c)(3)’s like Catholic Charities, Martha’s Table, and Penny Appeal USA.
Why is Development Director one of the most popular roles you see?
It’s true that development-focused positions make up a little over 60% of what we place, it’s the cornerstone of what we do in the sector.
In the nonprofit sector, knowing where the money is coming from has always been key. Money is needed to move programs along, provide direct services, put on a conference, keep members engaged, and overall move a mission forward. It can be difficult and time consuming to find someone with a strong development skillset and the right mission alignment. That is where we come in.
Easiest way for a development professional to stand out as a top applicant?
Stand out with your successes! What I always love to see on the resume of a development professional are the numbers. Have you increased donor retention? What qualifies as a major gift? What is the largest gift you secured? What is the budget you are overseeing? Numbers tell the story of your accomplishments, how successful you are as a fundraiser.
One special trait nonprofits love seeing in their next Development Director?
For DoD’s, organizations are looking for that special balance of someone that is a fundraiser and relationship-builder at their core and also a strategic-thinker. Someone that can look at the big picture, build goals, collaborate with staff, make a budget, but never lose sight of being forward-facing to donors.
Any unique stories about DOD’s going above and beyond, dazzling an interview room, and winning the job?
I once had a candidate that had an amazing first round interview with a disease organization, but knew that other candidates were in the running.
To show how dedicated she was to the mission, she created a strategic outline of what she would do once they got in the door. Development plans, big ideas, immediate actions, long term strategic moves, etc. I was able to pass it along to the organization, they were blown away and that had a big impact on their hire of her. She is still there, over a year later, and loving it!
Would you say there is a winning recipe or a “secret sauce” for Development job seeking—one that explains why nonprofits end up choosing the candidates that they do?
I’d say it really comes down to mission-alignment.
This is so important in anyone’s role for a nonprofit, but for a development professional it is essential. Donors can feel if you really care about a mission, and it impacts how you show up for work every day. That mission alignment shows up during the interview process, it always does, and that is a huge part of the final decision.
Today, so many fundraisers have causes they feel passionately about. What’s the key to branding yourself towards a cause or mission you love?
Fortunately, there are so many amazing missions and a nonprofit for everything.
Having an open mind while job searching is important, but I also think it would be very beneficial for a job seeker to sit down and take the time to identify big mission “buckets” that they are passionate about and use that as a guide. That passion should then always, always be highlighted in a cover letter. Of course—take the time to highlight your skills, but there should never be a missed opportunity to let an organization know why their mission matters to you, and how that would impact you showing up to work every day.
Any parting advice for fundraisers thinking of making a change during the spring or summer?
If you are thinking of making a change, start by updating your resume and writing a cover letter focusing on mission-alignment. Consciously highlighting your cause will open new doors. Finally, make sure to talk to a recruiter (Careers In Nonprofits is here for you!)—and as you start an active search, stay optimistic.