How to Reach Your Potential - Delegate!

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 10, 2018 7:35:33 AM

Are you a Chief Development Officer, Vice President of Advancement, or perhaps a Director of Development and Public Affairs? Are you being asked to help manage and direct other aspects of your institution? Is getting all your work done becoming more and more difficult, or even impossible? The answer may be closer than you think—perhaps sitting in the next room.

The responsibilities falling to top development professionals are growing faster than their salaries. Quite often, Chief Development Officers are sitting on the management team in hospitals, colleges and universities, schools, social service organizations and cultural institutions. They are asked to raise more money every year; and, increasingly they are asked to manage large staffs, oversee other functions (public relations, marketing, etc.) and help make management determinations about the operations of the overall institution. Between studying to cope with these new responsibilities, continuing professional fundraising/development education, cultivating relationships with major donors and trustees, mentoring and supervising their professional staff members—top development professionals are feeling torn in too many directions.

Do you think your job is becoming impossible? It may be, unless you effectively tap into the potential of your development and related support staff. By delegating effectively, you can achieve your combined goals of growing fundraising success and making an additional contribution to the overall management and leadership of the organization in which you serve. In order for you to focus upon the strategic issues which require your attention, you must learn to effectively sift the work you now have into three piles: strategic—requiring YOUR immediate attention; important—requiring someone’s immediate attention (this you must delegate to your lieutenants); and unimportant—requiring only cursory attention (this you should eliminate, or have a capable assistant make this determination before you even see it).

In development and advancement work, attention to detail is crucial. One faux pas can really diminish your standing with the board or a member of the community. Therefore, I know it leaves many of you fearful that you cannot delegate because:

    • There is nobody on staff that can do this as well as I can.
    • I don’t want to be seen as ‘dumping’ all my work on my staff whose members have expressed their feelings that they are already overworked.
    • What happens if someone screws this up?
    • I do not have time to be teaching all this to other people.
    • If they do this better than I do, I will look inadequate.
    • I don’t have time to chase all these people for all these projects.
    • This is my job. I am the one who is supposed to do these things.


There has to be an appropriate amount of delegation for you to work effectively. This is why you have been given a staff—they are part of your team. To have a winning team, a team that is well-organized and excited about the things they are doing, you have to distribute the work and the learning effectively. Anyone who has enjoyed the opportunity to play team sports knows that winning teams are built upon shared responsibility and shared risks. And everyone must contribute to the best of there ability.

Surely there are risks that some jobs may not be done properly, or they may be completed more slowly than needed. There will always be a learning curve. But, with proper guidance from you, and intelligent decisions about what you delegate and to whom, you will be able to ensure that most of the important tasks are done properly and within an acceptable time frame. As they are developing and building new skills, each member begins to feel that they are an essential part of the team.

Best of all, the employees who are learning and growing will be grateful to you for the opportunity and they will be able to repay you with more versatility in their own repertoire, and a job well done. This is truly a win-win-win situation—for you, your staff member and your organization. Feeling able to do many tasks effectively and confidently leads employees to venture out and help each other more frequently. And helping each other builds team spirit and an esprit de corps that is of inestimable value to the organization.

Of bitter disappointment to lower and medium level development or advancement staff members is the lack of learning and professional opportunity associated with ‘on the job training.’ People are pigeon-holed into fixed activities by their job title and the way a development operation is setup. The annual fund director seldom learns personally how to solicit a major gift, because they are never invited along on a call. The person responsible for fundraising and public relations communications and media doesn’t develop much of a working knowledge or rapport with the major donors because the senior major giving officers guard their prospects and donors very carefully. This leaves some staff asking themselves, “The Board President, the CEO and the Chief Development Officer handle all the really big shots—but what do they do with them and how, and how am I supposed to learn as a junior development officer?”

This problem is often exacerbated by time constraints and tight budgets that don’t allow for much flexibility in staffing and training. People are hired, pushed to perform within their area of expertise and they often move on, rather than learning what is going on around them well enough to move up within the organization. If you want to break from this disappointing trend in large development shops, then you need to learn to delegate effectively and to cross-train your employees.

I suggest a good system to emulate would be what many banks do when they make every management trainee spend time in each major position within the bank: teller, administration, loans and loan administration, accounting, etc. After such cross-training these new managers are able to serve both the bank and the customer better because they know the functions within the system, how important it is to attend to it properly, and how easy it is to have someone make a mistake if great care is not taken in each aspect of every transaction.

Following is a list of things that you may want to delegate, followed by a list of things you probably should not delegate. Consider them as they relate to your work:

You may wish to delegate:

    • Direct management and supervision of large staff. Within a larger institution, you cannot manage all direct reports. You need a few direct reports through whom to manage and supervise the others—this helps everyone learn and grow, and it gives you more time for executive level activities.
    • Repetitive tasks (but involve yourself carefully in crafting the ‘pat’ solution and look in on the process regularly.) An example might be thank you letters of less than some minimum level. You should sign them all if you can for oversight, but an administrative assistant should prepare these. For larger gifts, you should write them yourself, preferably by hand.
    • Special Events—staff and volunteers should be able to manage these, with limited oversight and suggestions for improvement from you.
    • Public Relations functions—staff and volunteers can handle much of this, but you should help develop the agenda.
    • Publications—staff with volunteers’ help and your input.
    • First screening of mail, e-mail and interoffice mail (put formal policies into place so that the screener has guidance and direction).
    • Routine correspondence, though you should try to sign letters you mail, after screening for accuracy.
    • Routine appearances.
    • Database administration.
    • Lower level solicitations and donor management.

You probably do not want to delegate:

    • High level cultivation and relationship building with the CEO and board of trustees.
    • Opportunities to represent the institution at high level events, conferences and seminars.
    • Supervision, management and mentoring of your top staff members (who in turn, and with your direction, supervise other staff members).
    • Cultivation and solicitation of the very best donors and prospects.
    • Organizational and departmental strategic planning and goal setting.


If you are not accustomed to delegating, you might sit down individually with each employee and tell them you need their help. Explain that, “I have noticed your ability to do certain tasks really well, do you think I could count on you to handle some similar or related things for me as well? They are really important to us, if the team is to reach its goals. I wanted to make certain it was in capable hands. Can you do that?” Then simply:

    • Ask for their help in very specific terms, but don’t give orders.
    • Make sure the task is clear, the expected results and timing are reasonable and indisputable, and that the results are measurable (for fundraising efforts there should be specific goals for both activity and dollars raised).
    • Take time to ask questions to be sure you are understood. Welcome their questions now, and as they get farther into it.
    • Give them the corresponding authority to execute the task—give them the material and information essential to the job, and your blessing and imprimatur to secure the other things they may need.
    • Maintain an ‘open-door’ policy, encourage frequent questions and progress updates—in long projects, insist on formal written progress reports reviewed in person.
    • Don’t just give each person a bunch of ‘to dos’ and walk away. Make sure you are tracking the activity as it moves along, helping to encourage them at any difficult times. Assume they will need help along the way—you did, as you were learning!
    • Never dump unwanted or undesirable tasks upon one person. And don’t continually demand that people finish things on an unrealistic timeline. Once in a while, people will happily stay late to help the team finish a particularly challenging task—but not every night or even twice a week. People have lives!
    • Give professional colleagues the freedom to do it their way, if the result is acceptable. Their way may be better and faster and they will enjoy this latitude. Besides, you will surely learn something new by watching them.
    • If someone is making a good effort, but not doing an effective job, take the time out to show them how to do it more effectively. If they aren’t making the effort, you need to talk to them about that, and secure their agreement to step-up.
    • Remember, you are delegating YOUR responsibilities! You must follow-up, especially when many members of your team are working collaboratively. If one person’s contribution is not ready in time, it will create a bottleneck for the entire team. Formally record assignments, together with the names of the assignee and the date for completion. Then follow-up promptly.
  • Once an assignment is completed correctly, be generous and public with your praise. It makes everyone feel good, especially the person whose work you are recognizing.

By approaching your colleagues in such a constructive manner, showing your faith in his or her ability to do the job, and allowing them the freedom to do it right, you are building confidence—theirs and yours. This is remarkably rewarding for all parties and creates a win-win-win situation for you, your teammate, and your institution.

As delegating helps you gain time, efficiency and effectiveness, you will grow in your ability to serve your employer. Noticing this, they will increase your level of responsibility and compensation. Just be sure that this translates into more opportunity and compensation for your indispensable ‘teammates’ and you will have created a very positive feedback cycle.

If you want more responsibility and your boss (the top development officer) is seemingly bogged down with minutes, sit down with him or her and review this article. Explain you are willing to do more—then do a great job when you get your chance!

David G. Phillips is president of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS).   CDS has become one of North America's best and most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Capital Campaigns, Communications and Networking, delegate, General Articles, manage staff, Professional Skill Building, professional skill building, staff management, strategic planning

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