How to Be a Small-Shop Nonprofit Development Director
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, coming into the White House in the midst of the desperate years of the Great Depression, set the standard for new presidents to make their marks within their first 100 days in office. These days, the phrase “100 days” has entered the American lexicon and become even more common, especially in areas where progress is a goal.
Chances are if you’re coming on board as a nonprofit development director in today’s climate, you, too, may be facing a time of great instability. In the past, I’ve worked in situations where I was the fifth development director in three years!
For the most part, nonprofit organizations have been hit hard by our nation’s economic woes. They’re facing challenges in terms of donations, staffing, government and foundation funding, and organizational structure.
How can you quickly make a difference while at the same time setting those important standards for your organization’s future sustainability?
Too often those without a true understanding of what actually fuels long-term fundraising quickly measure a development director’s worth. They forget that today’s grant proposal will more than likely take months, if not a year, to bear fruit. Establishing a successful individual-donor campaign certainly will yield immediate results, but the big results may take years and are the product of having sustainable systems in place.
How can you best approach your new position in those crucial first 100 days?
The organization’s history is important, so begin by giving yourself some time to review what’s been done in the past. Hopefully the grant files will be well organized, the database will be one that you’re already familiar with, and you can access what has been done in terms of any type of annual appeal and events.
Make a list to determine what needs to be done in each of the following areas:
Make it a point to create a listing of your top 10 to 20 donors. You’ll want to speak with them on the phone or meet with them personally within the upcoming 100 days to introduce yourself, learn about their connections with the organization and gather stories.
- Who are your donors? Have you created a donor profile or persona?
- Does your organization have any bequest gifts? What are the stories behind those bequests?
- What constitutes a major gift for your organization, and how many of those donors do you have?
- Most importantly, what is your organization’s retention rate?
Don’t make the mistake of solely focusing on your top donors.
Query your database as well to find your most loyal donors. These may be individuals who only give $50—but they’ve given every year for the past 10 years. Make it a point to write, call and meet with as many of these individuals as possible so that you can introduce yourself and show your appreciation (no ask—you aren’t there yet!). Ask them why they have chosen to donate every year and try to find out what motivates them, inspires them and makes them tick. These individuals are the ones who will form the beginnings of your monthly giving program.
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.