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Plan for Success on Day 1 of Your New Development Role

By Jennifer Johns posted 11-16-2021 11:32


I am one of those fundraisers who “fell into fundraising” instead of seeking out this job in a more traditional way. I remember being offered my first job in development, and thought to myself, “So, now what?”

Before you officially begin
Even before you set foot in the door (whether virtually or in-person), ask your employer if there are any documents or company materials to review before you begin.  Get familiar with your new job description, mission of the organization, and organizational values. Use this time to identify areas where your strengths can shine on day one.

You may suggest offering to visit the office and meet your new team before officially joining. This has been incredibly helpful in my past experiences.

If your role works closely with the board, research the board members on LinkedIn and Google their names in advance. You don’t need to memorize each person’s resume, but it pays dividends to have a broad understanding of their expertise and background.

No second chances with a first impression
When you join a new organization, you have one chance to make a good first impression. It’s worth thinking about how you will approach your first day and what you want to accomplish. It may be the case that the new organization will provide a plan for you, but it’s always best to be proactive and go in with your own. This demonstrates you are enthusiastic about your new role. There is only one opportunity to start your first day off on the right foot and everything you do communicates a message and sends signals. Keep your body language relaxed and avoid the sense of feeling overwhelmed. No one expects you to know everything.

It’s OK to feel upside-down
Successful Development Directors are rare breeds. The first day as a new Development Director is crucial for getting on the road to success, but it can feel like a load of wet towels in the dryer, being tossed around in circles at a high speed.

Let’s face it— it’s way too easy to just sit down at your new desk and immediately get caught up in a crisis. You can’t put out a fire before you know the lay of the land. So stop, listen, and think before rushing into anything.

Take control
Your position may have been vacant for many months before you take the helm. There will be pressing items that require your attention. However, in my experience, it isn’t always the first thing that presents itself that you should tackle straightaway.

Things you CAN do to make your early days productive and enjoyable:

  • Create an elevator speech about yourself and your new role.
  • From day one and beyond, listen and understand the organization and whom you work with on a daily basis. 
  • Create a plan of action for the first few months on the job.
  • Learn how your predecessor approached the job and which of their methods were successful and which are in need of a rethink.
  • Learn about the organizations past successes and failures.
  • Get familiar with the organization’s objectives and ensure you have a clear understanding of how you are expected to contribute towards achieving them (We all know fundraising professionals wear many hats!).
  • Meet the right people internally and externally who can set you on the correct path.
  • Encourage your new staff to talk honestly about priorities and what, in their opinion, needs attention.

Your first day can also be a hectic one for your employer. They may feel under the gun to get you caught up on an avalanche of info and have you dive in heard first. If any part of your initial onboarding feels rushed, don’t hesitate to ask for more clarification or set up a 1:1 with the individuals who can provide a more in-depth overview.

If your first day doesn’t go entirely to plan, don’t sweat it. Wrapping your arms around any new job doesn’t happen overnight. Be kind to yourself and remember everyone on staff once had their first day on the team, too.  

Don’t forget you were hired because of your skills and passion for the mission. The organization believes in you and you should believe in yourself!

I highly recommend a treat or an indulgence at the end of the day. Mine would include a glass of wine. You may need it and likely deserve it. Cheers!