Don’t “Raise Your Salary": Defending Your Pay as a Development Director

Vol. 14 No. 9

development eletter Vol14 No9 development salary

At private schools and other nonprofit organizations with Development Offices, there can be an expectation—written or understood—that a Development Director must raise a certain amount of money above his or her salary to be considered “good” or “worth the school’s investment.” This logic is toxic and encourages a flawed approach to fundraising that can fundamentally interfere with your ability to fulfill your job.

Salary Pays for Experience

As a Development Director, you’re called on to wear many different hats and juggle dozens of responsibilities. You’re a communications person, a public relations expert, a financial wizard, an empathetic ear, and a talented leader of volunteers. You must be comfortable with multimillionaire CEOs and the owner of the mom-and-pop soda shop down the road, mixing formal respect with a warm rapport that engenders relationships.

That’s not to mention the creativity required for out-of-the-box events and fundraisers that generate attention and revenue to the school, the flexibility of attention and time required to court donors on their terms, and the oration skills of a master speaker.

These skills aren’t found in every person. The experience that turns talent into skill is even rarer. Therefore, an appropriate salary must be established to attract—and retain—the skilled administrator who can effectively mesh with your school’s culture to complete the (many) responsibilities the school needs of them.

The salary, then, is a reflection of your skills and experience; it’s not reflective of how much money you’ll “get” the school. You are a professional, not a stock expected to pay dividends to investors.

Random Targets & Team Efforts

You’ll hear about Development Directors who are told they have to generate X times their salary as their fundraising target—but that is no way to set a fundraising goal for a school community.

First of all, how was this “X times salary” amount determined? Usually, it’s a shot in the dark by a school administrative team that thinks that quantity “sounds right,” which is no way to run a successful campaign. A funding target should have a specific goal in mind, with a program to be funded or an endowment to grow. Targets set at “X times salary” are difficult to rally around and often demoralizing.

Not only that, but depending on the situation a new Development Director inherits, a school community may not be ready to generate that sort of donated income to a school. The relationships haven’t been built yet (or may have been burned by the previous Director), or maybe the school itself just hasn’t grown enough to need those multimillion dollar capital campaigns.

Setting the funding target at “X times salary” could lead to unreasonable expectations within the Board of Trustees at what you can achieve. (You’re a talented professional, after all, but not a magician.)

Fundraising and the school’s overall plan for advancement isn’t an individual endeavor—it’s a team effort to which every school department and administrator contributes, from the newest substitute teacher to the Board President. By making the Development Director’s pay so intimately linked with fundraising efforts, it absolves these other school community members of their obligation to the school’s advancement outcomes.

Pay for Performance—Not Money Raised

At the end of the day, the Development Director does have an obligation to the school to raise necessary funds—whether to “fill the gap” or fund other aspects of the educational program—and nurture the relationships within the community that make this fundraising possible. So this article isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be held accountable for how well you do your job.

Instead, how well you perform at your given role should be evaluated by the School Head, with “money raised” as a single factor within the broader, more complex job that you do for the school. That “money raised” number should be considered within the context of how well the community was prepared to offer funds to the school, and compared to a rational fundraising target-goal that’s based on previous campaigns and other quantifiable reasoning—not based on your salary.

So the next time someone asks you how much money a Development Director “should raise” for their salary, respond that the school should earn however much it ethically can, in the community in which it teaches, while building and maintaining the relationships with donors to ensure long-term investments over short-sighted “X times salary” figures.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 15 No. 4 An Update to the Overtime Salary Rule Change: Nonprofits and Small Businesses Fight Back for More Time

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 26 No. 13 Estimates of Constituent Income: Salary Resources Online

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