Development Directors Must Manage Up

Managing-upBy Nanette Fridman and Jennifer Weinstock

Does your organization have an Executive Director or a CEO without significant development experience prior to becoming the lead professional? It is often the case that an Executive Director is hired for a leadership position based on a diverse set of skills which may or may not include development experience.

Development Directors can find themselves in a difficult situation if they are supervised by a professional who knows little about the field of development. In the best case scenario, your Executive Director is a highly relational person and is excited to tackle the responsibility of being the lead fundraiser for your organization. Yes, you read that correctly, no matter how many development professionals you have on your staff, the Executive Director is the lead fundraiser for the organization. So what do you do when your Executive Director doesn’t know how or where to start?

Here are five tips for every Development Director who needs to guide their Executive Director in executing on development strategies. Even though the Director of Development reports to the Executive Director, the Development Director must manage up. By manage up, we mean that the Development professional directs their Executive Director on how to spend her time and with whom.

  1. Donor Stewardship: Make sure your Executive Director knows and can recognize by face your top 25 donors. She should be able to see them, know their family background, what they are most passionate about at your organization and their giving history.
  2. Time: Do an audit of your Executive Director’s calendar; How many hours a week is she spending on relationship building work? Benchmarks in the field say that an Executive Director should spend 50% of their time building relationships that will financially strengthen the organization. Is your Executive Director spending that much time? Does she even know with whom to have those meetings and conversations and how to fill her calendar?
  3. Community Leadership: For your organization to attract new donors, stakeholders in the community need to see and know your Executive Director and recognize her as a thought leader and key person in your community. Is the Executive Director attending the right community gatherings, speaking at events and creating meaningful community partnerships? Do members of your community see her as a leader who offers important content to the fabric of your community?
  4. Key Relationships: Does your Executive Director have a short list of key stakeholders who she calls with regularity? Perhaps it is to wish them a Shabbat Shalom or Shavua Tov; maybe it is to let them know something amazing that happened that week at your organization or to ask for their advice. The Executive Director should have 10 to 15 key stakeholders on speed dial and check in with them very regularly.
  5. Skill Building: Support your Executive Director by suggesting books, articles and blogs for her to read on development, go with her to a conference or training or help her find a coach. Support the Executive Director’s growth in this area to ensure that she is both skilled and comfortable with asking donors to invest. The Director of Development should be offering help and coaching along the way as the Executive steps into this new role of lead fundraiser for your organization.

Development Directors shouldn’t be afraid to “manage up” and help their Executive Director become a strong relationship builder and manager and a skilled solicitor. Taking the time to do so is one of the greatest investments a Director of Development can make in their organization.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.” Nanette can be reached at

Jennifer Weinstock is the Senior Development Officer at Gann Academy in Waltham, MA and a Wexner Field Fellow. Jennifer can be reached at