In the development office, Leadership, Nonprofit Careers, Nonprofit Phenomenons, Research Studies

Gone Fundraiser.

“We just can’t find good development directors, and when we do make a hire, they don’t perform well or they leave too soon!”

In the past six months, I have had a couple of nonprofits approach me to reconfigure their development departments. Both have had an absence of a Director of Development for over a year because they don’t feel that model works for them based on past performance: One nonprofit has had three director of developments in the span of as many years – by the time this person begins to build relationships with donors, they are gone. Or they are asked to leave because they are not effective after a year. The other nonprofit lost their development director to another nonprofit who could pay more. Do these scenarios sound familiar to you and your nonprofit?

Not surprisingly, this is a nation-wide phenomenon and it is a significant threat to the stability of nonprofit organizations.

The Vicious Cycle

CompassPoint just released a study about this occurrence in their “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising”. Here is an overview of the study’s findings.

DoD Position Vacancy Lengths


Gone Fundraiser. There is a lack of consistent leadership of fundraising programs across nonprofit organizations. Not only have Director of Development positions been vacant for a median of 6 months, half of the current Directors are planning to leave their position in the next two years or sooneror the field all together. We know that when director of developments depart their position it affects more than just the organization, it disrupts the relationship building between the organization and its donors.


EDs very satisfied with DoD performance


Good help is hard to find and afford. More than half of Executive Directors reported that there were an insufficient number of candidates with the right mix of skills and experience in their last search.

  • 33% of Executive Directors are lukewarm or dissatisfied with their current director of development’s performance.
  • 25% of executives fired their previous director of development for poor performance.
  • 25% of executives report that their current development directors have no experience or are novice at “current and prospective donor research.”


DoD compensation by Org budget

You pay for what you get and smaller organizations struggle to attract skilled development directors because they simply cannot compete with the salaries offered by larger organizations. The data confirms that the supply of qualified development directors is smaller than the demand for them across the nonprofit sector.


Strength in Partnership in Fund Development Work


Empty Tool Box. We know that it takes more than just one person – skilled or not – to effectively fundraise in a nonprofit organization. The lack of key fundraising tools and resources contributes to the lack of return on efforts.

  • 23% of nonprofits have no fundraising plans compared with 97% of high performing organizations who do have a fundraising plan
  • 75% of executives say that their board member engagement in fundraising is insufficient
  • 25% of Executive Directors report that they lack the skills and knowledge to secure gifts
  • Half of development directors do not have a strong partnership with their executive director in fundraising
  • 59% of development directors do not have a lot of influence over staff participation in fund development or setting realistic financial goals (42%)
  • 41% reported that their organization did not have a culture of philanthropy
  • A large majority felt that fundraising activities overall were not effective or only somewhat effective

The report reveals that a surprising number of organizations lack the fundamental conditions for fund development success – basic tools such as a fundraising plan and database, essential board and executive leadership and development skills, and a shared culture of philanthropy across the organization.

So what are we to do given all of these facts? Go hide under our desks until scientists can build a “Stepford Fundraiser”?

Call to Action. The study calls for ten steps to break the vicious cycle in development offices across the nation.

  1. Embrace Fund Development. Build a culture of philanthropy in your organization. This begins with education and inclusion of all staff, Board and volunteers in fundraising.
  2. Elevate the field of fundraising. Bring “sexy back” to fundraising. Give respect to the position and the person in the position.
  3. Strengthen and diversify the talent pool. Educate your fundraiser to increase his or her skills. Challenge them to fundraise in new and effective ways.
  4. Train boards differently. Consider the Board a partner in fundraising. Give them the education and tools to work with you. And, for crying out loud, stop complaining about their lack of fundraising help!
  5. Apply the transition management framework to the development director position. Hire as mindfully as you would a CEO of a Forbes 500 company. Utilize a search firm and other resources to conduct a thorough and careful search and hire.
  6. Invest strategically in grantee fundraising capacity. Engage funders to invest in the capacity of your development department because the funds will return ten-fold on the development officers’ ability to sustain the organization’s programs with funding.
  7. Leverage technological innovation – embrace creativity. Fundraisers today have more tools than ever like social media to engage donors online in cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. Use these tools often and wisely for sustained results.
  8. Set realistic goals for development. This exact topic came up at recently came up at a meeting of senior fundraising professionals. The development directors at the table said that they have pushed back on their Executive Directors and Boards to stop raising the fundraising goal every year just to meet the gap in the budget. They are being conscious that they cannot continue to go back to their major donors with the “sky is falling” message every year and expect generosity. So, create a budget that allows you to live within your means and fundraising.
  9. Share accountability for fundraising results. Expectations are everything. When Executive Directors and Director of Developments work closely together to set goal and expectations, the outcomes will be positive. It is also important to set the expectation that fundraising is a team sport – a Director of Development can not be successful without the engagement of the Executive Director, all staff and Boar din the process.
  10. Exercise fundraising leadership. It is time for Director of Developments to step up their game. Fundraising is not easy in this economy and it requires more savvy and strategy. So, pull out your play book and start implementing all the strategies.

2 thoughts on “Gone Fundraiser.”

  1. Reblogged this on DODme's Blog and commented:
    This so abundantly true here in the central valley. You do “get what you pay for” and there is also a bit of recycling going on. This has happened to several of the organizations I have consulted with: They hire a “local legend” based on reputation and they do not preform! Part of this is due to lack of time in the seat and the other is the “smoke and mirrors” effect created by some. Finally, many organizations develop a fundraising plan without a development person’s input thus creating loft and sometimes unattainable goals. There is no magic formula or pill that “makes it happen”….it takes time, patience and the right combinations.

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