Three Different Jobs for Development Staff

Three Different Jobs for Development Staff

20 January 2016


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Several of my clients and former clients are trying to hire development staff. Need a job?

Regardless, the matchmaking is not really working. How do you find the right person? Do you hire experience? Or do you hire untrained talent?

I’ve written about this before. (See How to Hire Fundraising Staff, Part 1, and How to Hire Fundraising Staff, Part 2.) But I recently had an excuse to try to explain it using different imagery. This is what I came up with:

There are really three different functions in fundraising and development work. Each one demands its own personality, and you rarely find all three attributes in the same person. In fact, you rarely find even two. Being clear about what you need and then hiring with those needs in mind will help you find and keep the right person.

The Mechanic is the person who makes sure all the stuff that doesn’t require interacting with real people gets done. S/he gets the appeal and renewal mail out, enters the data into the computer, and makes sure everyone’s name is spelled correctly. The Mechanic sees the mail come in, too, and carefully tracks every check to its source code and project. S/he is most comfortable when s/he is on budget and on schedule. S/he is vulnerable when she is confronted with the need to do things differently.

The Strategist is part planner and part matchmaker. S/he works most effectively behind the scenes, putting the Executive Director and board members (the “Stars”) in positions where they can be successful. The Strategist is the Chief-of-Staff, the orchestra conductor, the aide-de-camp. But s/he is also the anticipator, the enabler, the facilitator. S/he is comfortable letting others take credit, confident in his/her own role. S/he is also comfortable accepting responsibility when things don’t go as planned. The Strategist is most comfortable when his/her plan is working 95% and s/he covers the last 5% him/herself. S/he is vulnerable when a Star expects him/her to be the Star.

The Star is the face of the enterprise in a given moment. The Star is the first in line, the one with answers, the source. But s/he is also sensitive to the donor, alert to his or her needs, and gracious. S/he is aware that s/he lends credibility in the moment through his/her presence and demeanor at the event. The Star is a salesperson who understands that the donor comes first. S/he is most comfortable when s/he is sharing with another person something about which s/he is most passionate. S/he is vulnerable when s/he is unprepared.

Early in my career, I was a Strategist trying to be a Star. It wasn’t until I learned how to help others be the Stars that I really started raising a lot of money. Stars really need to be comfortable with being just Stars. There are Star/Strategists out there, but they are very few and far between – and they have a team of Mechanics making sure they don’t do something stupid.

The problem many organizations have is that they really want to hire a Star so they don’t have to be one themselves. “You’re hired! Now go raise money so we don’t have to.” More generically, organizations and the people they hire are mismatched. They hire a Mechanic and expect them to be a Star. Or hire a Star and expect a Strategist. It doesn’t work.

My case in point is an organization that hired a Director of Development. The person they hired was eminently qualified to be a Director of Development. He had raised millions of dollars under different circumstances for different organizations. But he was clearly a Star and clearly saw himself that way. Here, he was to be the only development staff person – Star, Strategist, and Mechanic. When I first met him, he was introducing the keynote speaker at a donor dinner – with the Executive Director and Board Chair seated in the room! He didn’t want to be the Strategist, and he hated the Mechanic work. He saw himself as the Star. It wasn’t going to work out, and a year later, he didn’t either.

Most Director of Development positions for small nonprofits are written as Star/Strategists, but the organizations really need is Strategist/Mechanics. The staff position I would hire first is a Mechanic. Don’t hire someone to take over for you. Hire someone who can make your job easier. Then hire a Strategist. And hire a Star last.


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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’m thinking about in January. What are YOU thinking about?

  • Communications Theme for 2016 – a theme that will run all the way through your communications for the entire year. It will provide substance for newsletter and website articles; Facebook, Twitter, and other social media; solicitation and thank you letters; and even events.
  • Cultivation Plans for my Top 100 List – A Top 100 (or T-100) is simply a list of top donor prospects. These are people who warrant and deserve your special cultivation attention. In January, for each donor, draft and calendar an individual cultivation plan.
  • Evaluating and Soliciting the Board Members – One-on-one, sit down meetings with each board members to evaluate their experience as directors in general, discuss committee placement, review measurable goals from last year, set new goals for the coming year, and solicit a pledge for their 2016 gift.
  • Saying Thank You – How will you thank your donors this year? Can you get Board Members involved?





Photo credit: Night Sky by Luis Llereno courtesy of


Find out how David can help you and your staff with fundraising training here.


Share this!
  • David Allen
    Posted at 13:39h, 20 January

    From my In-Box this morning:


    Really nice post David- this was well done and not a topic I see regularly touched on but so important.

    Hope you’re well.


  • Brad
    Posted at 12:01h, 20 January

    To answer your initial question, yes, I need a job.

    As a job seeker in the field, I find this post to be very helpful. Your breakdown of functions has helped me analyze and clarify, in my own mind, where I might fit in as new (career changer), somewhat untrained talent. I will read your earlier writings on this topic; thank you for including the links.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 13:42h, 20 January


      Best of luck to you in your job search. Let me know where you land.