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Development Leadership

Development Leadershi[

There are many aspects to leading and managing a development effort within a ministry. The management aspects are often written about. Managing the staff, the programs, strategies, and writing reports are just a few of the management tasks needed to make sure a development effort is successful.

But what about "leading" a development effort? What are the leadership components, skill sets, attitudes, and experience needed to lead development? After years of working with nonprofit ministries I find it is very difficult to find a leader in development that understands the unique tools leaders must use every day.

Here is what my 25+ years of working with development leaders has shown me: The leader in development has two main responsibilities — first is to be the visionary, and the second is to disciple.

  1. Vision - The leader of development must always be looking at the vision for the front line impact of the ministry or mission, and integrating the development vision into the overall strategic thinking.
    1. Latest Trends in Development — In the world of professional development there are always trends to track and study. These may be about the latest technology, a trend in strategy, or something old that gets refreshed. A leader must always be teachable and ready to study.
    2. New Strategies in the nonprofit world — The world of nonprofits is huge and full of change. A leader must be reading and studying the new ways/strategies that are being suggested, tested, and proven in the nonprofit world. How about using a cell phone to give $10 to Haiti? This one strategy brought in over $600M to the island in need. But is it applicable in every situation?
    3. Donor research and trends — There are a number of researchers in the field who are studying and compiling important pieces of information for use in the development world. They allow the development leader to have research and factual studies rather than a “gut” feeling from a board member to guide the development efforts. The development leader must be aware of and tuned into these sources of information.
    4. Staying current in your nonprofit arena (i.e. schools, rescue missions, overseas ministries, social services, etc.) — Each area of nonprofit ministries has proven development strategies that work and do not work. Being in tune with your fellow professionals is a leadership trait that your Executive Director will depend upon. Learning is leading.
  2. Discipleship — The second aspect of development leadership is discipling the people you lead. Each member of the team looks to their leader for guidance, encouragement, and accountability. They seek to follow a leader that desires to invest in them and their success. Just as Jesus worked with the 12 disciples, so to the Development Leader must invest in each member of his/her team.
    1. Leading a learning development department — A learning group of development staff will always seek success. To learn more about development, strategies, and people is key to improvement. A learning team follows a leader who learns.
    2. Leading staff to excel in their area of responsibility —As a leader, you are also a teacher. You must learn enough about each individual team member’s duties that you can guide them and support them. You must empower them to grow in their field.
    3. Leading staff to become and stay a team — A team ebbs and flows. Development people have their ups and downs. The leader must know their team and when they need a surprise ice cream Sunday, and when they need a challenge for higher goals.
    4. Finding success through each team members success — Remember the story of the sales leader who is then put in charge of all salespersons. The entire team fails, because the leader is all about personal success, rather than leading through the success of team members. A true team leader is about helping each team member grow as a person and professional.
    5. Leading a development team after a less than successful strategy or situation — A true development leader knows not every strategy will be successful. Not every goal is met on the first try. The development leader must know how to use success and failure to build and grow his/her team.

To lead a development department takes a series of skills and attitudes that go beyond the management spectrum. Leading the creative and sometimes difficult staff of a development team is more than just having the authority. It means learning how to lead, challenge, push, pull, and encourage the team through strategies that are never promised success. Every development strategy has elements of faith. The development leader must use every leadership tool at their disposal to lead the organization and the development team members to successful and fruitful outcomes.


Dr. John R. Frank, CFRE