Could You Be the Reason Your 7th Development Director Left?
There’s an old, overplayed joke that asks, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?”
The answer, of course, is, “Only one, but the bulb has got to really want to change.”
We all know that underfunding and dysfunction is rife within the nonprofit community. Resistance to change, founder’s syndrome, a never-ending treadmill of low-yield events, a lackluster, uninvolved board, the list goes on.
So if there is one definitive answer to your funding woes, it must be the development director, right? She’s not raising money quickly enough, the last event was a total dud, she can’t invigorate a board, blah, blah, blah. It’s prime time to hire a new one, and then … success, right?
And then, three months in with the new development director, this happens:
I've been struggling at my new job. It's not been a smooth transition at all. Conflicting messaging. Fear of change. No handover. Lack of understanding of fundraising. No CRM and an extremely small donor pool who haven't felt loved. I've had rotating negative interactions with the chairman of the board (“Why haven't you produced x, y, or z yet?!”), the CEO (“I'm extremely angry you went to see that donor!”) and the emeritus chairman (“You stress me out!”). I'm constantly second-guessed, micromanaged and not trusted.
In my three months with the organization, I've developed beautiful collateral (10 video clips and a booklet for major donors); and I've met with the entire board individually, and with a number of donors and volunteers. I've developed a great relationship with a particularly difficult donor, sketched out a strategic plan, done some scoping on upgrading the database and explored grant options. And as of next week, I start working on the current sponsors to upgrade their gifts.
Today at a donor meeting I received a $10,000 gift from a gentleman who only ever gave $50 to the organization once. I feel vindicated but also slightly exhausted and defeated by this organization.
A member of a nonprofit Facebook group recently relayed this personal account, and it made my heart ache. And yet this story is way too familiar. I frequently hear these sorts of tales from my subscribers. They are stories of defeat, and they’re one of my motivators for why I continue to do what I do.
When it comes to fundraising, far too many nonprofit organizations are wedded to “magic bullet” thinking, mistakenly believing that a miracle solution will arrive and answer their prayers. Solve each and every problem. These sorely misguided approaches include:
- Finding that elusive major donor in the community, rather than stewarding and growing the relationships with the donors they do have.
- Searching high and low for the next Ice Bucket Challenge. Of course a video gone viral would boost our cause, wouldn’t it?
- Attempting to attract a celebrity spokesperson in hopes of making your cause more alluring. What’s that, you say? Our board member, Mrs. B, knows who?!
The problem is, these methods of thinking each fall into the category of distractions, ultimately wasting your time and diverting your focus from what truly matters. The longer it takes for your organization to recognize that lifetime relationship building is at the heart of great fundraising, the longer you’ll struggle. And, make no mistake, it is costing you.
Researcher Penelope Burk noted, “The high turnover rate of fundraisers is costing charities money. Lots of money. The average amount of time a fundraiser stays at his or her job: 16 months. The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement: $127,650.”
And in her research project from last year, Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, found "development director tenure plays a significant role in their ability to raise major gifts. For each additional year a development director stays at their organization they will raise an average of an additional 6.5 major gifts. This is a big deal for organizations where their development director doesn't stay past the two-year mark ... They never stick around long enough to see the increase.”
So what’s the answer?
Organizations need to commit to a donor-centered philosophy, where the donor is at the heart of all they do. That’s where your energy can be best invested. If you continue to chase bright, shiny objects, and let your distractions consume you, mark my words: You will fail. It’s a sobering truth, but it’s one you can’t escape, so I feel it’s my duty to reveal it now, rather than later.
Additionally, everyone in your organization needs to be on board, working together toward the same goals—and that means fundraising together, too. There ought to be a mutual understanding across the board that fundraising is everyone’s responsibility, and, ultimately, they need to accede to the development director. After all, it’s her job.
Does that about cover it? Not quite. Nothing ever will, because fundraising is a lifelong learning process. But you’ve studied this, and you’ve got the tools at your disposal to make it work, even if you haven’t found them yet.
There’s an art and a science behind fundraising, and, regardless of your position, it’s your job. The smart fundraiser needs to be prepared to take the reins and lead the organization’s staff, board and, yes, even the executive director. Take advantage of the resources you’ve got, and if you don’t have something that works, find out what does.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.