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.
Great stewardship doesn’t just happen—it takes time, effort and dedication. But you know what? Your persistence will pay off. Stewardship is your key to lifelong donors and eventual bequest gifts. Make a plan to gather all stewardship materials together and develop a consistent plan for both thanking and retaining donors.
- Does the organization have protocols on stewardship?
- What are the guidelines for a thank-you letter to a donor? To a corporate or foundation funder?
- How often are thank-you letters changed up?
- Do you have a “welcome pack” for first-time donors?
- When does the board president or CEO sign the thank-you letter?
- Are thank-you calls made on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? By whom?
Take a look at your organization’s 990 or budget for the past three years in order to determine what percentage of the budget came from grant funding.
- Has the organization run any past capital campaigns?
- Does it have a history of funding from the same funders every year?
- What efforts have been made to locate new sources of foundation or corporate funding?
- What is the organization’s goal for foundation/corporate funding?
- What types of relationships does the organization have with its foundation/corporate funders?
- Does the organization have a grants system in place?
If you’ve been in the nonprofit field for a while, chances are you’ll have some ideas of new sources. Make it a point to prioritize locating new sources of funding by doing weekly research.
This should be your first priority.
I’m assuming that your organization has a database. Chances are if you’re a new development director working for a smaller nonprofit and serve as the sole development department, the database may either be nonexistent or in a bit of chaos.
If the database exists, do your best to familiarize yourself with it, as well as past protocols for data entry and reporting procedures, and vendor contracts. If necessary, absolutely set some time aside for training.
Begin to outline a consistent, multichannel communications plan to retain your donors—and keep your supporters inspired.
- How has your organization communicated in the past? Appeals? Newsletters? Email?
- What does your organization’s website look like and who maintains it? Is the site current? Is the online-donation process seamless and donor-focused? What kind of user experience does the online donor encounter?
- What types of collateral does the organization have to express its mission?
- Does your organization have a bequest tagline that is included on all collateral?
- Is the organization logo prominent on all pieces of communication?
- Has communication with donors been current or sporadic?
- Has any effort been made to engage the local press?
- Does your organization utilize any social media? Should it?
Familiarize yourself with past events, if any.
- How do past events relate to the mission of the organization?
- Have the events met a goal? If they’ve fallen short, by how much?
- What are the expectations for the upcoming year?
- Are events monopolizing staff time? Are there events you could get rid of?
- What types of follow-up are conducted to turn event attendees into donors?
During your first 30 days, you’ll want to make every possible effort to introduce yourself to every member of your board of directors if you haven’t already met them. Your donor base shouldn’t be viewed as an entity and neither should your board. Just as you’re trying to get to know your donors as individuals, get to know the members of your board as individuals, too. Besides, you want each and every board member to give to your organization, don’t you? Find out what motivated them to become involved with your organization (you’re collecting stories again!), what their fundraising goals are and share what kind of communications they’ll be receiving from you. Create a plan for regular board communication, perhaps via a weekly email from you or forwarding your favorite blog post of the week—your goal is to lead your board and create consistent avenues of communication.
Set up short meetings with individual staff members to introduce yourself, learn their roles in the organization and discern how you all can best work toward achieving the organization’s goals. You may even want to consider spending a day to shadow your program staffers.
Familiarize your organization with the local political scene and draft letters of introduction to your state senator, state representative and regional politicos. Research membership at your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or other community organizations. Compile a press kit and draft a letter of introduction to the editors of your local newspapers.
- Has your organization been involved with any community organizations in the past, such as Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, etc.?
- Who are your state and local government representatives?
- Does your community have local weekly or daily newspapers? If so, make it a point to keep current on the connections. If not, you may want to consider how involvement might benefit your organization.
Probably the most crucial aspect of your new job is your organization’s mission and how your donors relate to it. Your strong passion for the goals and values of your organization will be the key component to how well you are able to raise funds.
Whether you’re working for a museum, an arts organization, a free clinic, a school, a religious organization, etc., you must be thoroughly grounded and have a strong belief in the mission, as well as an understanding of your organization’s relationship to the community. Make it a point to learn why your organization was founded, who benefits from it and why its services are so important to the community.
Begin to gather your organization’s stories. Storytelling is a crucial component of successful fundraising because it gives your organization a voice. The stories will feature experiences of those impacted by your organization’s work and should inspire not only giving, but enthusiastic giving.
Wearing the many hats of a one-person development office includes a challenging set of roles. Make your first 100 days count! You know what to do ...
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.