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The Development Team By Ron Frey

Time to Build Your Development Team!

As one of my clients recently said, “Finding the right donor development person will take a miracle.” Finding good employees for any ministry job these days is challenging. From his vantage point, the combination of very high costs of living in his geographic area combined with the moderate salary their ministry can afford to pay, creates a perfect storm that generates only a few unqualified applicants.

You may be in the same boat. Where are the future fundraisers who have the right communication and relationship skills, and also share a passion for ministry, demonstrate spiritual maturity, and want to use their skills to raise money? That’s a rare combination!

Ironically, at a time when wealth accumulation and donor’s capacity to give is at a historic high, many ministries are flourishing in their fundraising efforts. Yet, their ability to build a development team is extremely hard. Indeed, as Jesus said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” In fact, there is probably no other area of Christian ministry where finding the workers has ever been more difficult than in donor development, which means we really must “pray for the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the field.”

Christian ministries today need a new generation of fundraisers! This will require ministry leaders to present donor development jobs as a vital ministry and a great career opportunity. Here are a few ideas that may help you focus your recruiting and hiring efforts for good development people.

Hunt for Them

You must be constantly on the lookout for prospective development people. Be intentional about finding people who fit your ideal profile for the development job you have available. Whether it’s a direct marketing manager or major donor representative, you need to initiate conversations with people in your network who may fit the profile you need, or who many know others who do.

In today’s market you need to connect with the people who know you. Your donors may be a good source for hiring good people, as they are already giving to your organization. But if they are looking for an opportunity to do more, perhaps someone in your donor base will fit.

One of the biggest mistakes is to be impatient with the process. You feel desperate to hire someone, but hiring the wrong person could set you back. A bad hire can be worse than no hire at all. As Proverbs 26:6 and 10 warns: Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison. Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.

Ministries don’t need a “passer by” on their development team. You need people who are fully invested in the ministry, the donor relationships and the outcomes. Your own staff may be your best resource! Perhaps you have a current employee who with encouragement and opportunity can fit the role.

Present Carrier Opportunities

Present career opportunities in donor development as a unique and valuable calling. People need to see the big picture that comes from an eternal perspective, and how the investment of their career in donor development ultimately serves the purposes of God. Talk to your prospective staff members about the benefits that the ministry of donor development can offer them in a career, such as making lifelong friends, being a part of truly significant ministry work on a daily basis and seeing God move in miraculous ways. It’s an honor to tell the story of God’s work in ways that help donors see how valuable their participation is. It’s a great calling.

Train Your Team

In development, no day is the same. The work requires a hybrid application of your best personal, communications and relationship skills. There are many facets of fundraising that require specialized training, skill development and spiritual insight. Acquiring and developing these skills comes through having great mentors, coaches and consultants. Most of all, you will need to give your development team a philosophy of fundraising that fits your ministries values. If you hire someone who has the right attitude, skills set and desire to learn, they can, in time, become valuable members of your team through training and career development. Don’t hesitate to make that investment!

Empower Them

I once had a boss who expected a 10 percent increase in income over the prior year on a monthly basis. This expectation was matched by the implied “threat” that if I failed to deliver the money, my job was on the line. This self imposed standard of performance forced our entire team into a transactional mindset that was only focused on getting the gift, rather than growing the relationship. It also created a culture of fear rather than love and joy.

Empowering leaders understand that the ministry of donor development is all about loving people and giving them opportunities to respond. Allow your team to tell your story with excellence. Give your people time to build relationships. Don’t rush “the ask” if the donor is not ready. Allow your people to make decisions, and make mistakes. A ministry leader wants his/her development staff to be acting in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God; that is a winning formula.

Reward Them

In the Old Testament, God gave the priests in Israel two essential jobs: to receive the worship offerings and make the required sacrifices, and to bless the people. In exchange for this service, the priest collected 10 percent of the offerings made to the Lord, which was not a small sum! They were monetarily rewarded for their work. In most companies, the people who mobilize resources are among the most highly compensated because they deliver great value to the company. In the nonprofit world, this is true of development professionals. Be generous in compensating your development people because they earn it.

Ministry leaders today can inspire a new generation of fundraisers to play a vital part in Kingdom work. Let’s pray that the Lord of the harvest will call workers into the field of donor development!


Ron Frey​ is president of Frey Resource Group,​  a strategic and creative consulting firm that helps non-profit organizations inspire joyful generosity and achieve extraordinary success in fundraising. He has trained and consulted with hundreds of organizations on branding, donor communications, major gifts, foundation grants and capital campaigns.


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