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by Victoria Jones

Posted February 20, 2020

As I have spent time these last six months, with Chief Development Officers or otherwise-titled heads of development programs, I have heard a recurring line of question with increased fervor and frequency:  “Am I spending my time the right way?  The best way?”  It is an interesting conversation; in many ways, one that falls somewhere between “I was hired to raise money” and “I want to be a trusted partner in the big vision and big ideas of this place.”  The truth is that most CDOs want it both ways and rarely can have it that way.

Chief Development Officers are increasingly partners at the planning and strategy tables of most organizations. This is a very good thing.  If they are not, we would wonder what was wrong. Given the realities of an evolving donor mindset, few CDOs could succeed under any other circumstances. It is also a fact that these CDOs have a real juggling act when it comes to defining and managing their time while paying careful attention to what is happening in their own roles and on their teams.

From Development Guild’s unique position of both executive search and fundraising counsel, we have some experience and some ideas! We spend much of our day talking with CDOs and often share the following advice: 

1. Seek hard-wired performance goals.

The extent to which you can identify and help create clearly established goals for yourself gives you power over your time. You can negotiate from a much stronger position if your goals have been mutually determined and embraced. For example, if the expectation is that you  need to raise significant dollars right out of the gate, then you cannot spend most of your time in administrative meetings. Goals in hand, the trade-offs around how you spend your time will be much clearer and the net results will be shared between you and your boss. Consider it bargaining power!

2. Negotiate (or at least discuss) the way your time will be spent at the time of hire.

In a somewhat similar vein, if you excel at or really enjoy being on the frontline, ask how much of your time you can expect to spend with prospects and donors – or the anticipated size of your portfolio. Negotiate to your strengths. Where you can contribute best should be of great interest to your new boss. You won’t always get a perfect, or satisfactory, answer, but the discussion will help you anticipate your realities and again create shared accountability.

3. Leverage your time well right out of the gate.

Regardless of what gets discussed on the inbound side of joining a new team, there will be more meetings, more ideas, and greater expectations for your engagement than you anticipate. Expect everyone on your team to manage up, from day one. The highest performing CDOs we know do this exceedingly well. And by the way, this is just as good for your team members as it is for you. You will be able to juggle many more balls and at the same time you will develop the growth potential of everyone you work with. 

Perhaps the best advice we can offer: Know yourself well; you will be a better leader if you are doing what you love and what you are good at. And, seek a boss that appreciates the negotiation around goals and time. If so, you can be certain you are working for a true leader.

Development Guild DDI partners with nonprofit leaders to drive their mission forward with fresh perspective and high impact solutions. Learn more about our executive search or our fundraising and campaign services.


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