Dear Program Directors (A Letter from Development Directors):

The Things We Wish You Knew.

[Preface:  I was on a conference call today with 2 other Development Directors.  Among other things we touched on:  working with Program Directors.  When I got off this call, I wrote this letter.  If you have different thoughts, please share them.  I’d love to here about the experiences of others working with program directors.  Post here or write to me at rebecca @].

Dear Program Staff:

1. Just because we don’t work with our clients face-to-face, on a regular basis, doesn’t mean we don’t care about them. In fact, we care about them. 

Most of us could pretty easily work in sales, marketing, or communications positions in the corporate world (at much greater pay). But we choose to work here because we care, because we want to, because we love our clients and because we care about the mission.  Our care for our clients might look different than yours, but it’s there nonetheless.

2. Just because we’re away from the office, does not mean we’re not working. Within our field, professionals who are experienced and who really know about fundraising talk about how good fundraisers are not at their desks often.  Some fundraising supervisors talk about fundraisers not needing large offices or about intentionally giving fundraisers ugly offices to help motivate them to get out and go see donors.  We’re more effective if we’re out meeting with donors and prospective donors, sponsors, and foundation personnel.

Unfortunately, so many in the workforce have consciously and unconsciously adopted the attitude that if a person is not at his or her desk from 8am-5pm (or longer), that they’re not productive, professional, or committed.  People also tend to assume that people who are away from their desks are doing something frivolous and fun.

As someone whose primary responsibility has been fundraising over the last nearly twenty years, let me assure you that being away from your desk is very hard work. It’s stressful to travel extensively (either across a city, a region, a state, or a country), all the while trying to make sure that the run in your tights that you got while in the car or the coffee spill on your sweater doesn’t show and that you can find your way around unfamiliar streets (last week, I actually turned the wrong way on an unfamiliar one-way city street.) All the while, you are working on how to be charming and friendly (which can be a challenge if small talk isn’t your thing) while at the same time moving a conversation strategically forward toward a goal that helps your organization. Doing this, when there is no magic formula is hard work. You figure it out on the fly.  This requires creativity, intuition, and emotional intelligence, as well as preparation, practice, research, and planning. 

And while I’m driving around, stressed out about how the meeting will go, about our fundraising goals, about how I’m driving, and about how I look, I’m also trying to take a cell phone call from the Development Committee chair who chose this moment to get back to me about a couple of ideas I sent him two weeks ago. When I get back to the office, I’ll have 100+ emails and 10+ phone messages to return and my husband and children will have texted me 3 or 4 times asking about how to manage details of their lives, but before I’ll get to all these messages and fires to extinguish (which I know are happening before I see the messages on my phone), I’ll walk smack into you and your warm welcome back to the office.

Please don’t make any jokes when I get back to the office about how I’ve been out playing or about how you’ve been back at the office working while I’ve been galavanting about town.  And nobody likes Perpetua in Bridget Jones’ Diary “Late again, aren’t we, Bridget?”

3. I know you don’t like to talk about money, but I absolutely must for my job.  Please make peace with it and with me asking for it. Even better:  it would be great for you to ask for it too. In all my years of working with nonprofits, I’ve lived with program staff talking about things that make ordinary people uncomfortable, things like condoms, vaginas, penises, sexual abuse, bowel movements, potty training, masturbation, sexually transmitted diseases, drug addictions, rape, abortion, and homophobia.  I worked with one group of people who did presentations that used the words penis and vagina so often they would clear a room because people in the audience were so uncomfortable. My husband used to accuse (mostly in jest) the program people at the organization of traumatizing audiences. So it has always amazed me a bit to understand how program people can be so comfortable with talking about very uncomfortable programmatic subjects, but then totally shut-down, turn-off, and become offended by fundraisers asking for money.  

The only explanation I can think of for this is that these program people were comfortable talking about things that were socially unacceptable to discuss in public because they considered these topics to be mission-aligned, but, in contrast, they did not consider fundraising to be a mission-aligned topic, so they were not comfortable talking about fundraising and money in public.

Just as we fundraisers become knowledgeable and comfortable with a wide range of socially unacceptable topics that, but for our clients, we wouldn’t be discussing publicly (like sexual abuse and drug addiction), program directors need to similarly embrace thinking and talking about money and fundraising as a mission-aligned activity, one that serves our clients.  

4. We would really like to partner with you. And we would like for that partnership to be a two-way, mutually-respectful arrangement in which we each acknowledge our equally important role in the process of philanthropy and our mutually important role in the process of serving our clients.  We are like the left and right arms of our organization’s body. Yin and Yang.  One without the other does not help the client. Without you, there is no benefit to the client.  Without me, there is no you. Let’s please acknowledge that partnership and actively nurture it. We development directors would like to know as much as possible about the program.  Please help us to learn more about it.  Please gently correct our misunderstandings.  Please invite us to meetings and presentations where we might learn more.  Periodically, invite us to programmatic events so that we’ll have an opportunity to meet clients and gain insight and see the programs in action.  Tell us your successes and share with us your challenges.  In return, we would like to do the same.  We would like to tell you what is going well and what our struggles are.  We want you to know who are top prospects are, who we’re trying to meet, what are priorities are, and what messages we’re emphasizing. It would be very nice if you would take an interest in fundraising activities and not see them as an interruption or distraction, but as a meaningful part of the whole.  Please invite and include our clients at programmatic events and activities to our fundraising events.  Offer them opportunities to give to our organization.  They deserve an opportunity to be full participants in the life of the organization.  Share with them that fundraising activities are done as part of the mission.

5. Finally, if we have conflict or tension, let’s please be in dialogue.  We have a mutual purpose. Because we respect you and share a mission, we believe we can always or almost always resolve any issue with you so please don’t hesitate to put your concerns on the table. We want to know if you are experiencing difficulty with our department because we want our working relationship with you to positive.  Like you, we care about the organization and the people it serves and we want the best for them.  Help us know how we can best work in partnership with you and how we can best serve our clients.


Development Directors