This article was written by Kari Dasher. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the work she did while part of the Ostara team.
If a tornado headed your way, you would likely run in the opposite direction. When I serve as an interim development leader, I willingly run towards the tornado of organizational change with a smile on my face.
Call me a storm chaser.
You might think I’m crazy, but there is significant opportunity for leadership and organizational transformation amid development leadership transition.
As an interim development leader, I arrive in organizations just as a Chief Development Officer or Director of Development is transitioning, or after their role has been vacant for a month or more. Their tenures may have been rocky or successful, short or long. The common denominator is the need for leadership stability and the opportunity to re-envision the organization’s approach to fundraising.
My role is to clear the way for a successful permanent hire and to strengthen the fund development team and strategies along the way. To do this, I must enter the “danger zone.” I listen and speak up when I see people or processes that are not supporting the mission. I help the organization to consider new ways of doing things. While I’m not always popular, organizations are in better places to hire and retain staff and accelerate sustainable fundraising at the end of my interim tenure.
Here are seven ways an interim development leader could transform your team and organization during your next staffing transition.
- Change Agent. Their short-term nature allows interims to be truth tellers in a way permanent staff are not always able to do for fear it may affect their future opportunities. Interims have courageous conversations with Board and staff to highlight challenges and opportunities. These conversations are often uncomfortable and sometimes lead to dramatic, but necessary staffing or structural changes in the pursuit of the organization’s mission.
- Systems Analyst: An interim brings an experienced outsider’s perspective to the structure of an organization’s fundraising operation. They assess trends, goals and results and make recommendations for how to enhance your resources (people, processes, and plans). Interims collaborate with staff, Board, and volunteers to understand what to keep, discard, and enhance.
- Strategy Partner: During a staffing transition, there’s potential that a leadership vacuum can leave a development team rudderless. An interim can serve as a strategy and thought partner to the CEO and Board to help guide their thinking about fundraising’s place in organizational strategy. This normalizes the permanent development leader’s place at the strategy table.
- Coach: With their fundraising knowledge, an interim can come alongside staff and Board with resources and experience to help reveal new ways to approach their work.
- Collaborator: If fundraising has been siloed in the past, an interim can grow relationships with other departments like programs, finance, and HR. This is a process of listening and understanding each other’s needs. An interim also reinvigorates the development team by removing obstacles in their path and preparing them for new leadership.
- Planner: An interim can build plans that map the path forward, including financial goals, a case for support, strategies, and tactics. The permanent development director is often relieved they don’t have to start from scratch.
- Culture Catalyst: An interim can build or strengthen your philanthropic culture by modeling for the staff, Board, and CEO how a sustainable fundraising organization works and their roles in supporting it. They can also demonstrate for staff and Board leaders the link between an organization’s culture and their culture of philanthropy and advocate for strategies and outcomes that will strengthen both over time. This can also be an opportunity to infuse missing elements of diversity and equity into the structures and roles that reinforce the organization’s culture.
Let’s keep this conversation going. We want to hear your questions and ideas about interim roles. Want to chat with us about filling an interim development director role? We are here to connect.