The Importance of Development Officers
The five greatest challenges in nonprofit management are money and financial concerns, including donor acquisition and retention; membership recruitment and retention; staffing and volunteers; technology concerns; and decision-making, according to the enSYNC Corporation. Based upon its first concern, you cannot generate a consistent flow of dollars without an experienced and dynamic resource development staff.
Unfortunately, for many of us in the profession, keeping qualified and trained development officers is easier said than done. Several years ago, I hired three major gift officers with the hope of keeping them for five years. Five years later, only one of those hired remains. The organization spent valuable dollars to provide a master’s degree and specialized training to these employees only to see them leave for greener pastures.
The rate of turnover among fundraisers remains high and major gift officers lead this movement, LAPA Fundraising noted. Recent studies by CASE, AFP and others suggest the average tenure of a front-line fundraiser is between 1.5 to 3.5 years. As a development officer, if you want to make an institutional transformational fundraising impact, stay in your current jobs for a period of years without movement.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers,” suggests that based upon the attributes needed for ultimate resource development success, a first-time gift officer will require almost five years to become effective at their work. A study by Bentz Whaley Flessner that measured major gift officer productivity noted that it took four years for a major gift officer to generate significant output from their prospect portfolios.
Longevity builds a better portfolio as it takes time to build significant relationships. It is suggested that major gift officers, before they decide to move to another position at another place, make the most of their prospect portfolio, enhance their skills and take actions to increase their marketability.
When dealing with fundraising effectiveness of activity versus productivity, Ellen Bristol points in her blog that development departments must deal with increasing donor retention rates, constant staff turnover, upgrading current investors, providing clear result expectations for fundraisers, and seeking an adequate, predictable cash flow. The problem is many development officers major in activity but not productivity. Steps need to be taken to provide development officers with the tools and measurements that provide appropriate results mechanisms. One example is the number of asks made annually and the funds contributed.
David H. King, in a recent Giving USA article, shared the fact that despite the lingering pandemic, development officers continue to leave secure positions for other opportunities. When development professionals take on new positions, common expectations between them and the new institution they are now serving must be developed. Organizations must give new development officers time to acclimate, build a new plan, plus strategize to work their plan. It is important that the issue of development professional turnover continues to be addressed.
An Evertrue blog examined the fact that the average tenure for a gift officer is fewer than 18 months. Research noted that in 2020, 51%t of all fundraisers planned to leave their jobs in the next two years. This fact is filling an open gift officer position will cost the institution at least $127,000. This departure will result in lost time, productivity and a tremendous loss in relationship building with prospects and donors.
Three reasons gift officers stay in their current positions are community links, right job fit and personal sacrifice. To retain your best fundraisers, you need to support their community connections, be flexible in their workplace demands, find ways to keep motivated talent happy and keep professionals focused on the organizational mission. You may also need to establish remote gift officer locations to keep your best talent on board.
Make sure when you hire a major gift officer that you provide an effective onboarding program. Customize your onboard program by determining the employee’s high priority skills. Make sure the new hire has the most important information that allows for them to hit the ground running. Seek to identify the new major gift officer’s skill gaps and create a training plan immediately that addresses this issue.
Have a first 90-days-on-the-job plan for the new hire that provides an array of training formats. Accommodate the new hires based upon their training needs and wants. Get to quickly know the new hire and seek what motivates them. Your long-term goal is to train and keep employees for as long as possible.
According to a LinkedIn blog by Sally McGuffey, provide productivity tips for development officers when they walk into a new organization. Share best practices and job performance expectations. Encourage them to schedule their work time that allows for donor visits, for example, their free time for needed tasks, and reporting time to document donor visits and create action next steps.
Schedule time for email and phone visits. Take time and schedule a process to thank prospects and donors. Schedule time to engage in social media activity to promote your organization. Show them how to plan their time wisely and follow a plan. With practice, these new hires enhance their productivity and effectiveness. Consistent performance is a must in the development profession.
Development officers are very important to any organization. Your goal is to recruit wisely and retain this valuable asset for as long as possible. Get to know each development officer and strive to meet their needs. Take the time to recognize and thank them for the important role they are playing in your organization.
Money is a major concern for many nonprofit organizations. Your development officers should be providing increased revenue each year and building tremendous external relationships. Make sure your development officers always feel important and valued. With this philosophy, the length of your job tenure and job satisfaction should increase.
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy. He has maintained a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation for three decades.