How to Be a Nonprofit Development Director – Charting Your First 100 Days

President Roosevelt, coming into office in the midst of the desperate years of the Great Depression, set the standard for new presidents to make their marks within their first 100 days in office.

And, like FDR, incoming President Barack Obama enters the White House at a time of great crisis with his own ambitious first 100 days to do list.

Chances are, if you’re coming on board as a nonprofit development director in today’s climate, you, too, may be facing a time of great instability.

Nonprofits, for the most part, have been hit hard by our nation’s economic woes.They’re facing challenges in terms of donations, staffing, government and foundation funding and organizational structure.

How can you make a difference quickly, while at the same time setting those important standards for your organization’s future sustainability?

Too often a development director’s worth is quickly measured by those without a true understanding of how development operates.Today’s grant proposal will more than likely take months, if not a year, to bear fruit.Establishing a successful individual donor campaign will certainly yield immediate results, but the real results may take years.

How can you best approach your new position in those crucial first 100 days?

Begin by giving yourself some time to review what’s been done in the past. Hopefully the grant files will be well organized, the database will be one that you’re already familiar with, you can access what has been done in terms of any type of annual appeal and events.

Make a list to determine what needs to be done in each of the following areas:


Take a look at your organization’s 990 or budget for the past three years to determine what percentage of the budget came from grant funding.

Has the organization run any past capital campaigns?  Do they have a history of funding from the same funders every year?  What efforts have been made to locate new sources of foundation or corporate funding?What is the organization’s goal for foundation/corporate funding?What types of relationships does the organization have with their foundation/corporate funders? Does the organization have a grants system in place?

If you’ve been in the field for awhile, right off the top of your head, some new sources may come to mind.Make it a point to prioritize locating new sources of funding by doing weekly research.

Individual Donors

Who are your donors? Does your organization have any bequest gifts? What are the stories behind those bequests?

Make it a point to create a listing of your top ten to twenty donors.You’ll want to speak with them on the phone or meet with them personally within the upcoming 100 days to introduce yourself, learn about their connection with the organization and gather stories.

Don’t make the mistake of solely focusing on your top donors.

Query your database as well to find your most loyal donors.These may be individuals who only give $50 – but they’ve given every year for the past ten years.  Make it a point to write, call and/or meet individually with as many of these individuals as possible to introduce yourself and show your appreciation.   Why have they chosen to donate every year?  Capture their stories.  These donors will form the beginnings of your monthly giving club …


This should be your first priority.

I’m assuming that your organization has a database.Chances are, if you’re a new development director working for a smaller nonprofit and you are the sole development department, the database may be nonexistent or a bit of a mess.

Do your best to familiarize yourself with your organization’s database, their past protocols for data entry and reporting procedures, their vendor contract – and absolutely set aside time for training if necessary.


How has your organization communicated in the past?  What does their website look like and who maintains it?  Is their website current?  What types of collateral does the organization have to express their mission? Does your organization have a bequest tagline that is included on all collateral? Is the organization logo prominent on all pieces of communication?Has communication with donors been current or sporadic?  Has any effort been made to engage the local press?  Do they utilize any social media?  Should they?  Does every staff and board member have a consistent email signature?

Begin to outline a strong, consistent communications plan to retain your donors – and keep the public informed.


Does the organization have protocols on stewardship?  What are the guidelines for a thank you letter to a donor?  To a corporate or foundation funder?How often are thank you letters changed?  When does the Board president or CEO sign the thank you letter?  Are thank you calls made on a weekly basis? By whom?

Great stewardship doesn’t just happen – and it’s your key to lifelong donors and eventual bequest gifts.  Make a plan to gather all stewardship materials together and develop a consistent plan for thanking and retaining donors.


Familiarize yourself with past events, if any.  How do they relate to the mission of the organization?  Have they met goal?  What are the expectations for the upcoming year?

If there are no events for you to keep up with, consider yourself blessed.


During your first 30 days you should make every effort to introduce yourself to every member of your board of directors if you haven’t already met.  Find out how what motivated them to become involved with your organization (you’re collecting stories again!), what their fundraising goals are, and what kind of communication they’d like to receive from you.  Consider sharing a copy of Blackbaud’s Report on Growing Philanthropy with every member of your board.


Set up short meetings with individual staff members to introduce yourself, learn their role in the organization and discern how you all can best achieve the organization’s goals.


Has your organization been involved with any community organizations in the past such as Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, etc.? Who are your state and local government representatives?  Does your organization have local weekly or daily newspapers?

If so, make it a point to keep current on the connections. If not, you may want to consider how involvement might benefit your organization.  Draft letters of introduction to your State Senator, State Representative and regional politicos.  Research membership at your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or other community organizations.  Compile a press kit and draft a letter of introduction to the editors of your local newspapers.

Your Mission

Probably the most important part about your new job is your organization’s mission and how you relate to it.  Your strong passion for the goals and value of your organization will be the key component to how well you are able to raise funds.

Whether you’re working for a museum, an arts organization, a free clinic, a school, a religious organization, etc., you must be thoroughly grounded and have a strong belief in the mission.  Make it a point to learn why your organization was founded, who benefits, and why their services are vital to the community.

Begin to gather your organization’s stories.

Wearing the many hats of a one-person development office is challenging!   Make your first 100 days count.


8 Responses to “How to Be a Nonprofit Development Director – Charting Your First 100 Days”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Blase Ciabaton. Blase Ciabaton said: Great post: Your first 100 days as development director: #nonprofit RT @PamelaGrow […]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by PamelaGrow: Your first 100 days as development director: #nonprofit…

  3. Couldn’t agree more on individuals. Your first months are a golden opportunity for cultivation of individual donors. Everyone who cares about your organization will want to meet you – they like to know the organization is in good hands and they also like to know who will be contacting and cultivating them going forward. Often when a director of development leaves there’s a void there for the donor and it’s important to fill it quickly and put the donor’s mind at ease. I always found that donors were very happy to meet with “the new guy”!

  4. Adrian Salmon says:

    Get the budget early. Work out the trends from all of those income streams, decide how much is reasonable to ramp up by in terms of staffing, professional help, etc and make your case EARLY. You have a much better chance when you’re new, and also the response you get to this will help you determine if this job is a keeper, or if you’re going to wind up in the therapist’s chair…

  5. Madelyn says:

    I am in the process of finishing my first 100 days (started as Director of Development with Kentucky Habitat for Humanity on 8/2) but still found a lot of valuable information in this post. I’m going to use it to evaluate my progress and set goals for next quarter. Thanks!

  6. […] from doing tons of professional reading on fundraising. I came upon Pamela Grow’s “How to Be a Nonprofit Development Director – Charting Your First 100 Days” and I thought, “wow! What a great road map! I can’t wait to get started on my […]

  7. […] I couldn’t have asked for better advance training.   It’s why I always recommend that new development directors make calls and appointments with as many donors as they can, paying particular attention to those […]

  8. GREAT resourse of information, as well as the books. Pamela just seems to reforce with details some of the generic things you amy hear in training or workshops…GREAT reinforecement of “Practical” appilications of this Non-profit work!Pam has sooo many resources… i will get them 1 at a time.

    Thanks for your insights and posts!

    Carolyn (CA)


Featured in Alltop

SHOW OFF! Design a portfolio in your pocket!