When It Is Time To Move On

In my line of work, I meet a lot of people.  I am constantly wowed with how good most of them are at the work they do.  But sometimes—well, more than sometimes—I meet mostly development directors who need to move on.  It’s not that they are bad at their jobs.  Many outgrew those jobs a while ago;  for others, it’s the frustration factor that is doing them in.  These people need to move on, but the passion they have for their organization and a deep desire to see that organization succeed, gets in the way. It’s ironic.  Caring so much about the organization is what ends up standing in the way of these development directors doing what would be best for the organization:  Moving on.

In a field where relationships are (or should be) at the heart of the matter, suggesting that someone leave a job seems just wrong.  But truthfully, for so many nonprofits relationships are not what they should be.  Development Directors spend the majority of their time sitting at their desk, sending out annual appeals, writing grant proposals and acknowledging gifts.  They also spend more time that I care to think about on the annual gala or event.

The other 5% of their time is spent on anything else.  Anything generally turns out to be whatever no one else at the organization can or will do.  Things like dealing with vendors, fixing broken pipes or computers, dealing with unhappy clients.

The enthusiasm and creativity they brought to the organization, two, five or even 10 years before, is sapped.  They run on automatic and feel hard-pressed to make any changes in the things they do.

Along—or all by itself—is the frustration factor.  Too much to do with too few resources.  But more than that.  Sometimes, in the best of all worlds, that scenario leads to inventiveness and resourcefulness. For that to occur there must be strong support from the CEO and the Board.  Often, alas, there is not.  The Board neither wants to fundraise nor, apparently, do they want anyone at the organization to approach anyone they know.  They do, of course, want dollars coming in, but there is that sense that they simply want those dollars to wander through the door with no effort on their part.

And then there is the micro-managing CEO.  Sometimes it is not really that they micro-manage but they’ve attended one of the many Board Chair development programs that assert “ALL communication with the Board must go through the CEO,” and they somehow actually believe that. Yes, I am being snarky here, but I get so irritated at the programs that treat development like a not-so-liked stepchild.  For the organization to succeed, development must sit at the grown-up table and be recognized as a valued and integral part of the organization.  When that doesn’t happen, the development director’s arms are tied.

Because you truly can never be a prophet in your own land, the sitting development director will not be able to make it happen. And so, it is time to move on.  The new person, if she plays her hand well, will have that honeymoon period to re-stage.

“I know to leave,” is a refrain I hear.  I also hear the other side, “We need our Development Director to move on.”  And yet, nothing happens.  It’s not that the DoD is doing a bad job, it’s just that she has stagnated and it’s starting to show.

When that happens, it is time to bite the bullet.  If it’s you, it is time to start looking.  Don’t let the unemployment rates frighten you.  Double digit unemployment tends to be among the least educated and unskilled.  If you are a college grad with development experience under your belt, you are still highly employable.  But remember, a job search is not just about finding work; it is about finding the right job for you.

If you are the manager or the board member of an organization with a development director who, though good, should be thinking of his or her next step, don’t just wish upon a star.  Talk to them.  And consider how you might tap into their passion for what you do.

Perhaps in a year or so after they leave, they might be considered for a position on the Board.  Or asked to join the development committee.  Encourage them to really mentor the new development director once he or she is hired.  Perhaps it makes sense to have them sit on the search committee.

You might even be able to help them find that new job.  Certainly you can provide an enthusiastic (and truthful) reference.  You might also provide introductions and leads.

Moving on then, instead of the end of something, starts a new, possibly even more productive relationship, where everyone—especially the organization—benefits.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and to build better, more involved and engaged boards.  She is the co-teacher of the online Get Grants class, and co-author of Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants.  Learn more about Janet’s consulting and training at http://janetlevineconsulting.com