How to Find the Right Development Officer

Nonprofits often struggle with how to select the right Development Officer!
Here are some tips:

  1. Distinguish between a development officer and an administrative support person. Make sure you have adequate administrative support so that your professional development officer does not spend time inputting and manipulating data, scheduling meetings, or handling routine administrative tasks. This is a waste of the development officer’s time and expertise—and a waste of your money.
  2. Craft a good job description. This is a leadership position with significant design and decision-making responsibilities. Your Chief Development Officer is a senior-level manager, part of the organization’s senior team.
  3. Obviously, you have to hire someone who possesses the documented body of knowledge in fund development and demonstrates real-world experience.
  4. In addition to expertise and experience in fund development, think about what you expect in anyone who holds a senior-level position. For example: a Team player. Effective supervisor, mentor, and coach for other employees and for volunteers who help with fund development. Strategic and critical thinker. Problem identifier and fixer. Leader. (And you must define what you mean by “leadership,” because there are so many different interpretations. The right development officer, if she is the chief development officer, should be an organization development specialists. This includes having familiarity with systems thinking and learning organization management theories. They should have knowledge of governance to be able to facilitate that with board members on committees along with general management and strategic planning expertise.
  5. You should understand enough about fundraising to be able to conduct an interview. For example, the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) is the baseline credential for fundraisers. Maybe you will want to bring in a professional fundraiser to help review resumes, help craft interview questions, and participate in the interviews. Consider conducting a preliminary interview to verify specific information and get an initial impression of the candidate. Then, the leadership should select the top candidates for interviews. Hopefully, you have identified three to five candidates for interviews. Make sure to send your final candidates’ critical information about your organization. You should expect the candidates to come prepared to comment on your materials.


For example, include the following items:

  • Your most recent annual report, audit, current strategic and fundraising plan.
  • A couple of copies of your donor communications, e.g., a donor newsletter, a solicitation letter, a case for support.
  • Organizational structure, e.g., showing staffing structure and senior management team.
  • List of board members and their general information, e.g., occupation, etc.
  • Some donor statistics, e.g., the number of donors, donor retention and acquisition rates.

The right development officer will be able to share astute insights from the information you have provided.

The Development Officer Interview Process: 

Construct your interview team carefully. Make sure everyone on the interview team understands his/her role and limits. The interview team should likely involve: three to four board members, including the Fund Development Committee Chair; one or two members of the Fund Development Committee; and perhaps the board chair. Additionally, members of the senior administration, e.g., head of departments, programs, missions and finance/business officer, and any member of the senior management team.

To identify the right development officer, interview questions are critically important. Good interview questions require that a candidate think carefully, respond thoughtfully, and demonstrate expertise and experience to you. Assign different questions to different people on the interview team. Alternate general questions with fundraising-specific questions. Determine the order in which you want to ask the questions. And, of course, other members of the interview team can ask for clarification even if they did not ask the question originally.


Pay attention to what the candidates ask you. Their questions demonstrate their insights and expertise and experience. Their questions demonstrate the application of their knowledge and experience based on a review of your information.

You should expect job candidates to be assertive and gracious, candid and respectful. Expect the candidate to offer a gentle critique and advice about how to improve your organization’s fundraising. You do not want to hire a meek, mild, overly polite, go-along-to-get-along candidate. You want a leader—and that means being courageous, speaking out, challenging assumptions, and being a change agent.

Possible Interview questions: 

  1. Describe how, in a previous position, you overcame resistance to fundraising from:
  • Executives or administration
  • The board or fundraising committee
  • Staff or volunteers
  1. What are the process or the thinking that you use to build a development team and a development function?
  2. Share an example of a successful solicitation of yours. Describe the process from the concept and design of it through what made it successful, and what you learned from the experience.
  3. Share an example of a not-so-successful solicitation of yours. Again, describe the process from the concept and design of it through what made it not so successful, and what you learned from the experience?
  4. Tell us about your philosophy on relationship building, including the connection as you see it between relationship building and solicitation.
  5. How will you help this institution identify those who are interested, qualify them as prospects, and then transition them into donors?


John Curtis, Ph.D

John founded IOD, Inc. in 1986 and has 30+ years experience providing a wide array of consulting services to nonprofits of all types and sizes. He also teaches fundraising, strategic planning, board development, and change management for the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy at Rollins College in Orlando, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits in Atlanta, and the Duke Nonprofit Management Program in North Carolina and Virginia.
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