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10 Things To Do When You Are Starting A New Development Assignment


Sooner or later outstanding development professionals find themselves with a new director's position--either within the large organization for which they work or in a new nonprofit organization. As a director here are 10 things to do when you have a brand new assignment--plan to do them within the first month. These will help you to build your important platform for success. And you will clearly establish that high performance is your expectation.


  1. First of all, celebrate in a productive way. It's so exciting to start something new--there's a clean slate. You can modify past efforts and replicate the effective strategies that you've used. Keep building on your successes with every new position. Believe that you are headed for success and you will be. Ensure that an announcement about your arrival is circulated to key constituencies--set the stage.

  2. Review the website again. You did this while you were considering the position, but now you are in the position and you will see new and different details...you will begin to formulate your strategies for approaching the fundraising, familiarize yourself with the language of the institution and determine a little more about the culture. Arm yourself knowledgeably for the meetings ahead.

  3. Set meetings with each staff member. Review position descriptions for each staff member and then meet them in their own offices so that you can understand a little more about them through photos, memorabilia, inquiries, etc. Find out what each staff members actually does, what they like to do and what they would like to learn to do. How much have they raised and how? Ask them what they think about the fundraising, both strengths and weaknesses. What would they like to see for the next year? In the next few weeks when you are finished with all of your preliminary work you can then circle back for a full staff meeting and outline your overall plans and then talk with each about what you would like from them to contribute to overall success.

  4. Set individual meetings with the overall Director of the organization and all key leadership. Determine what they think about past fundraising efforts and what they would like to see for the future. Secure their help in beginning to develop a list of key fundraising priorities. Ask them to outline past successes and determine what is on the horizon. What are their own dreams and expectations for the future? Establish the beginning of a meaningful relationship. If there are outstanding donor issues, assume responsibility for clearing them up.

  5. Focus on the board or council. Determine the background of each with a particular look at leadership, membership on committees, length of service and philanthropic commitments. Begin to meet with each of them individually. Become involved with the Board and Development Committee meetings including agendas and philanthropic presentations; help to determine how effectively a council may be performing overall.

  6. Identify the top ten donors. Find out as much as you can--who they support and why, their backgrounds, which staff member was responsible for solicitation, their key organizational contacts. Visit them, introduce yourself and start a solid, positive relationship.

  7. Review the current case for support. Using the interviews you are conducting and the statistics you are reviewing, modify the case for support or reinvent it altogether. Once approved, communicate it throughout the organization. And communicate it again. Ensure that you can easily talk about the key priorities. Why are they important? Develop a few stories about each of them, focused on the clients who benefit.

  8. Review assorted other items. Study the organizational chart, history of the organization, policies and procedures, and all collateral materials.

  9. Develop a strategic plan for your office. Ensure that you can modify it appropriately as even more information is gathered. Communicate it to the staff, the leadership and the board. Secure their input and modify accordingly.

  10. Finally and very importantly, review fundraising statistics. Look at:

  • How much has been raised in the last three to five years...caused revenues to decrease or increase?

  • How many gifts are included in broad ranges of amounts? $5,000-9,999; $10,000-24,999; $25,000-$49,000 etc. This will illustrate pockets of opportunity for your plans.

  • What were the sources of gifts? Foundations, corporations, individuals, internal staff, board members, key leaders...etc. The geographical locations of these donors?

  • Are these gifts part of an annual fund effort, planned giving, special event, major gifts program? Endowment or operating fund? Restricted, unrestricted?

  • Review the typical fundraising reports generated by the office and/or by the larger organization.

Your first month should be extremely busy and you will have put many contacts in motion. You will gradually and deliberately begin to understand the framework for the organization and further expand the overall development plan. You will have begun your work with determination, passion, impact and noticeable energy. You will quickly unearth opportunities and be able to speak with authority about your work.


This type of momentum is invaluable to the organization as well as your own career.

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