As you consider recruiting development leaders to your team, it is helpful to revisit our definition of development: the discipline of building real relationships with people, helping them see what God is doing, and then challenging them to have the impact that only they can have.
There’s no doubt that finding, growing, and retaining high-performing development leaders is one of the most challenging, and often costly, endeavors that a ministry organization will face. Research suggests that most high-performers in development come from a wide range of other fields, prior to their work in development. Most, in fact, say they just “landed” in the role because they saw a need and then realized how effective they could be in adding value to the ministry they serve.
With this in mind, we have developed a short list of identifying characteristics that are nearly always found among those people we’ve worked with and evaluated that successfully made the shift from another role or career, into that of major donor development.
Performers. They have a history of performance in a people-oriented work that requires working with others to achieve measurable results. Often people assume that there is a correlation between success in a “sales” related role and “development.” We’ve seen no such correlation.
Self-motivated. This is someone that comes to work everyday with a plan of action, they can’t stand for people to direct them on what to do next.
Stimulators. These are people that can sometimes be found in conflict with people around them because they are thinking ahead about change. While others are frustrated about more work being added to their plate, this is someone who is working on the next big opportunity that may involve more work for a season.
Politically intelligent. No, we don’t mean in the Republican vs. Democrat sort of way. These people don’t complain about how the world of work is “political” and “all about who you know.” These are people who seem to have an innate ability to sense what is needed in relationship to keep people encouraged, motivated, or challenged.
Responsibility. These are people who have a high-degree of ownership and responsibility. They would rather stay late or work longer for a short time, rather than have something they are responsible for not work out successfully.
Competitive. They struggle with being highly competitive or performance oriented. This is a strength and has it’s corresponding weaknesses and challenges.
Fast. They tend to drive in the left lane and they pride themselves on being where they said they would be, when they said they would be there. These are people that you sometimes fear might “outgrow” your ministry because they keep moving forward all the time and accomplishing bigger and better things.
Fun. People enjoy their company and don’t turn and walk the other way when they see them coming. Time seems to fly when you are with them. They have a wide-range of interests and a love for learning new things. We have found a correlation between being able to have a sense of humor about the work and the longevity of a person in this field.
Pragmatic. While often visionary and strategic, they also tend toward action rather than rehashing the same debates.
Follow-through. They are balanced between being a “big picture thinker” while being able to track the details needed to have a project effectively implemented. They make sure the right things get done and dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
Creators. They have a reputation for creating work for other people. Not because they aren’t doing their own job, but because their work creates new opportunities that then create work for others.
Secure. These are people that are secure and confident in spending time with people at all levels of social and economic strata. They are equally comfortable spending time with a generous giver with a small income as they are with someone who is extraordinarily wealthy. It is not an overstatement to say that we have never seen a successful development leader who communicates or demonstrates an insecurity or disrespect of people that God has blessed with great wealth.
Personal. They feel a strong personal connection between who they are (their identity) and the vision and mission of the organization they serve. This can bring with it challenges and weaknesses as well, but is a key characteristic all the same.
Influential. They are recognized as influential people (at their current role) because of their relationships rather than their position. It is not usual to find these people achieving remarkable results in pure volunteer positions because they know how to innately build rapport and influence without positional authority.
We’ve also identified several characteristics among key people that are often found in the work of Development, and they often achieve amazing results in the short-run so it’s not unusual to see them offered a role in major donor development or development leadership.
Unfortunately, their makeup of strengths and interests is such that the very things that make them so valuable as members of the development team can lead to dismal failures in their work of face to face development or overall development leadership. They work very hard, but at the wrong set of priorities to achieve long-lasting donor relationships.
Data-obsessed. Many people in development roles are extremely passionate about the data and numbers. The love running reports and spend huge amounts of time in analysis and research. These people are a critically important part of the team, but will not excel in building relationships with the right people and getting things done through others.
Artsy, craftsy, wordsmithers. Again, these are important and crucial team members, but if they would rather spend time in solitude writing, tweaking, or working on logos, colors, and layouts, they will fill their time with this passionate and emotive work, rather than spending time with people who can give generously to move things forward.
Event Managers. These people are vital members of the team. They love building the checklists and making every event a “wow” experience. They add great value to the people building relationships and providing leaders to givers, but they would rather plan and execute than invest time in people over the long-haul.
In closing, there is no single test or tool that helps you measure or identify these traits, we do recommend a basic set of tests being included in your selection process of hiring for development positions. These can include: Strengthsfinder 2.0, The Discovery Report, and The Achiever. Combining at least one of these tests, with numerous hours of interviews and conversations can provide you with the confidence and clarity needed when hiring someone for the role of development leader tasked with growing significant giving year after year.
What have you found to be the most vital leadership qualities? Tweet them to me at @zachclark.