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

January 24, 2009

 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.

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:

Individual Donors

  1. Who are your donors? Have you created a donor profile or ‘persona?’
  2. Does your organization have any bequest gifts? What are the stories behind those bequests?
  3. What constitutes a major gift for your organization, and how many of those donors do you have?
  4. Most importantly, what is your organization’s retention rate?

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 meet with as many of these individuals as well to introduce yourself and show your appreciation (no ask).   Why have they chosen to donate every year?  These individuals will form the beginnings of your monthly giving program.


  1. Does the organization have protocols on stewardship?
  2. What are the guidelines for a thank you letter to a donor? To a corporate or foundation funder?
  3. How often are thank you letters changed up?
  4. Do you have a Welcome pack for first-time donors?
  5. When does the Board president or CEO sign the thank you letter?
  6. 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.


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.

  1. Has the organization run any past capital campaigns?
  2. Do they have a history of funding from the same funders every year?
  3. What efforts have been made to locate new sources of foundation or corporate funding?
  4. What is the organization’s goal for foundation/corporate funding?
  5. What types of relationships does the organization have with their foundation/corporate funders?
  6. 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.


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.


  1. How has your organization communicated in the past? Appeals? Newsletters? Email?
  2. What does your organization’s website look like and who maintains it? Is the site current? Is the online donation process seamless and donor-focused? What kind of user-experience does the online donor encounter?
  3. What types of collateral does the organization have to express their mission?
  4. Does your organization have a bequest tagline that is included on all collateral?
  5. Is the organization logo prominent on all pieces of communication?
  6. Has communication with donors been current, or sporadic?
  7. Has any effort been made to engage the local press?
  8. Does your organization utilize any social media?  Should they?

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


Familiarize yourself with past events, if any.

  1. How do they relate to the mission of the organization?
  2. Have they met goal?
  3. What are the expectations for the upcoming year?
  4. What types of follow-up are conducted to turn event attendees into donors?


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.


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. Should you be spending a day shadowing a program staffer?


  1. Has your organization been involved with any community organizations in the past such as Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, etc.?
  2. Who are your state and local government representatives?
  3. Does your community 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 your donors 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 so important 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.

Are you a new nonprofit development director? Get the tools, the metrics, and the meetings you need to get up to speed FAST and hit the ground running with Charting Your First 100 Days. This four-week online class will help you navigate the rocky *new development director* waters with a plan that works for you and your organization.



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