Hiring and Keeping Talented Development Staff

Hiring and Keeping Talented Development Staff


15 March 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Don’t know whether you’re paying attention, but there is a TON of churn in the conservation community right now. Executive Directors, having come into land trust positions as a wave in the 1990s and early 2000s are now retiring as a wave as well. Fundraising positions are open in multiple states, and many organizations are hiring new fundraising positions.

On the one hand, if you are a talented, experienced, and underpaid, the world is your oyster. On the other hand, it’s a nightmare for those looking for help. I’ve written before about hiring development staff, and it’s probably time to do so again.


How to Hire Fundraising Staff, Part 1

How to Hire Development Staff Part 2

Three Different Jobs for Development Staff


Here are the salient points, plus a few I’ve learned since I wrote the posts above:


  1. Be clear about what you are asking someone to do. Don’t hire a Director of Development and then ask them to do data entry, membership renewals, and Gala logistics. It is quite possible that what you really need is a Development Associate or Membership Manager. Director of Development can be the second or third fundraising position hired.
  2. Be careful when combining jobs that require different skills and personality types. Development and Communications, Membership and Outreach, Fundraising and Community Engagement all come to mind. Too often, real fundraising gets left behind in favor of other work that is less emotionally demanding and therefore more fun.
  3. Hire commitment and talent; train skills. The average tenure of a Development Officer is about 20 months. You will hedge your bets if you hire talented people who are authentically interested in the mission. In many cases, this will mean they have little or no relevant experience. That’s OK as long as the have the native talent and you are prepared to provide them with training.
  4. Yes – training. Be prepared to invest in training for someone who is talented and committed but not experienced. Training is about fundraising training to be sure, but also training in CRM software, conservation easements, invasives removal, trail-building, environmental education, nonprofit governance, and even soft skills like listening and time management. Conservation is a complicated business. Help new people fall in love with it.
  5. Accelerate pay increases. Experienced nonprofit Development Directors now make $80,000-95,000 on average. Let’s say you successfully hire your dream candidate at $60,000. Within a very short period of time, they will be worth $80,000 plus on the open market. You have a better chance of keeping them if you can accelerate their pay increases. I suggest establishing aggressive benchmarks as well (See also, A Metric System for Development Directors).
  6. Be careful about incentive pay. Basing a nonprofit fundraiser’s compensation on a commission of funds raised is unethical. There are ways to pay more for performance against goals, but stay clear of direct relationships between what is raised and what is paid to the fundraiser.
  7. Include the salary range in the Job Posting. Including the salary or salary range levels the playing field for all candidates. For a more complete treatment of this issue see Addressing Gender Bias in Conservation Organizations, from Saving Land Magazine in 2018.


Please help me add to this list!


The bottom line is that you need to take your time. False starts are expensive both in terms of time wasted and in terms of funds not raised.


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by Tricia Gray courtesy of Stocksnap.io.



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  • Jen Filipiak
    Posted at 09:30h, 16 March

    Thanks for this David! I’m curious if anyone has created a list of resources for development training (by “anyone” I mean the land trust community)? I get a TON of spam from various fundraising consultants, lots of webinars, blogs, etc. Often quite expensive. How do I weed through it all and help my development associate get into quality training opportunities?

  • David Lillalrd
    Posted at 10:49h, 15 March

    I went down the rabbit hole of all the links in this post. Yes, it’s pretty sad when your idea of self-care is bingeing on DA blog posts! The metrics system coupled with the Mechanic-Strategist-Star concept will be extremely helpful as we plan for our first development hire. Thanks David!

  • Meme Hanley
    Posted at 08:00h, 15 March

    100% David! Thank you for shining a light on these important issues – especially #2 above. Also, I’m curious where do you think the Board of Directors fits in here?

  • Judy Anderson
    Posted at 07:43h, 15 March

    Absolutely. I would add that the ED needs to be available. By that I mean being available to discuss trainings and what is relevant, discuss strategy and regularly help make.clarifications, discuss the impact of the funding and how to leverage it, and discuss workload and expectations at least monthly.