Setting Your Development Staff Up for Success

Setting Your Development Staff Up for Success

July 10, 2013 by jga_admin

by Dan Schipp


Call it the “Tale of Two Development Staffs” (with apologies to Charles Dickens). The two institutions are comparable in size, age, mission and values. They have similar resources at their disposal. Their development staff members have parallel experience and expertise. But when it comes to the morale of their development staffs, the similarities come to a screeching halt. The differences are as striking as night and day, “the best of times and the worst of times,” London and Paris.

Institution A’s development staff operate in silos. There is hardly any sense of teamwork. They receive little guidance and are not held accountable. They feel “afloat” -- not sure what their department’s priorities are. They also feel overworked, unsupported, and underappreciated.

Institution B’s development staff is clearly on the same page. They work as a team. They pull together. They respect and appreciate one another. They know the program’s priorities and pursue common goals. They are upbeat and positive.

As I consider these two staffs, I wonder what accounts for the differences in their attitudes and outlook on their work. What I discover is that Institution B has faithfully executed basic staff communication and management practices that Institution A has generally ignored. What are these practices?

  • Clear and current job descriptions for everyone on staff -- role descriptions that are reviewed at least annually with the staff;
  • An annual development plan with measurable objectives, reflective of institutional priorities and created with input from staff, whose implementation is monitored throughout the year;
  • Regularly scheduled staff meetings (at least monthly), involving the entire staff and providing an opportunity to assess activities, develop plans, build team commitment, and celebrate successes;
  • A formal orientation and on-boarding program for new staff members;
  • An annual (at least) performance assessment to establish accountability for program and individual goals;
  • Opportunities for professional development extended to each and every staff member; and
  • An annual staff retreat, focused on the “forest” and long-term goals of development, not just the “trees” and short-term plans.

There are a lot of factors that impact the success of a development program. Certainly, having knowledgeable, capable development staff members dedicated to the mission of the institution is a key one. Having clear and compelling goals, effective foundational programs (annual giving, major gift development, planned giving, capital fund raising, etc.), and a well-cultivated donor base are other essentials. But don’t overlook the sound staff management practices that promote communication, accountability, teamwork, professional growth, and positive morale.

What “tale” does your development staff tell? Is your staff’s morale more aligned with Institution A or Institution B?