Building a Small and Mighty Development Shop

Our family has officially kicked off fall soccer, and once again my little man has a desire to play goalie. At practice last week, one of the coaches stayed in goal with my son to give tips as they were working through drills. I was so happy because with my husband’s baseball background and my basketball experience, we are little to no help to our son.

When my son picked up an attempt on goal and was ready to kick the ball back down field, the coach stopped him. Normally he would pick up the ball and kick it as fast as possible. This time the coach held him back and said, “wait for a minute. Go all the way to the end of the box. Let your team get down field. Look, and then kick.”

That interaction has stuck with me over the past week, so much that I shared the experience at the NC Philanthropy Conference last Thursday when I started my presentation on “Building a Small, Mighty, and Efficient Development Team.” As much as you want to run fast and move things forward, sometimes the best thing you can do for your team is slow down, survey the field, and take the thoughtful approach forward.

Every time I have joined a new team I have looked for ways to make us smarter, faster, and more impactful. Each time I get pointed back to the basics. The three most important pieces of an effective team is the PLAN, the PEOPLE, and the PIPELINE.


A development plan is critical for success. It gives a team direction, is a communication tool for leadership, and is a platform to ask for support. It can also be used to test new ideas to see if they will enhance or distract from your strategy. What makes a plan great is the ability to make it a living plan. If you are regularly checking your progress against the plan, and making adjustments, it’s a living plan.


You can’t put a plan into action without the right people. Whether it’s one or 10, the key is finding people with the skills you need and playing to their strengths. Once you have strong people, it’s important to set clear expectations that align with your plan and have regular communications about goals. Then fill your gaps with volunteers!


A pipeline is the “who” in development work. Building out a comprehensive pipeline and sticking to it means your donors can’t accuse you of simply not asking. What I love most about pipelines is that it gives you a systematic way to manage relationships and make sure no one gets dropped unless they need to be dropped. What is shocking is how many small teams don’t have pipelines.

When you stop for just a moment to put fundamentals and tools in place before you kick the ball down field, you will work smarter because you are all working together. To see the deck from my presentation, click here.

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