Will Your Next Development Director Be Your First? Or Your 10th?
It seems like just yesterday nonprofit professionals the world over were having a field day with the latest report, “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising." This particular study is based on a national survey of more than 2,500 development directors and executive directors. The results were grim, reflecting a dismal state of affairs in the field of fundraising, including heavy turnover and vacancies in development director positions. The reality was bleak, and the future looked about the same.
Just a few of the sobering stats:
- 57 percent of development directors working at organizations with budgets under $1 million plan to leave their organizations within one year, compared to 38 percent of development directors working at organizations with budgets over $10 million.
- 27 percent of small shop fundraisers plan to leave the field of development altogether, compared to 11 percent of the development directors at larger organizations.
- Executives surveyed reported that 38 percent of development directors in smaller nonprofits are novices when it comes to securing gifts.
OK, so these numbers aren’t exactly surprising. But I found it interesting, and more than a little bit irksome, that the study disregarded both the challenges and skill-sets integral to successfully managing small shop fundraising. Imagine leading a development team of three, five—35 people. Your team includes a dedicated grant writer, an individual giving manager, a development associate to handle all aspects of stewardship, perhaps an event planner and a major gifts officer—or 27.
Now imagine fundraising in a small shop. It’s hard to envision that, isn’t it? After all, even a seasoned CFRE would blanch at the very thought of a position that entailed such diverse skills as grant proposal writing, individual giving, copywriting, stewardship, database management, major gift officer, social media, data entry, website creation and maintenance, event planning and more—and all at a salary level of typically less than $50,000.
In my own experience as a small shop fundraiser for a number of nonprofit organizations, I have personally:
- Paid for my own books and training out of pocket, more often than not.
- Created donor databases using Access because my employers were unwilling to commit to the cost of a CRM system (Excel is not a database—and I refuse to use it as one).
- Taught myself HTML coding and Dreamweaver (again, using books I paid for and even my own software) to ensure that the organization had a dynamic website.
- Been shot down more often than not on any type of approach that remotely hinted of innovation (even something as basic as creating a targeted mailing using the principles of Mal Warwick’s "The Mercifully Brief, Real World Guide to Raising $1,000 Gifts By Mail" or—gasp!—collecting email addresses).
- Paid for gas, postage and even printing out of pocket.
- Been derailed from increasing communications from one appeal letter a year to a comprehensive calendar of communications (because of reluctance to expend money on printing and postage).
- Been prohibited from attending board meetings (yes, seriously).
- Had my attempts to create a comprehensive retention and stewardship plan derided by leadership. A pat on the back has never felt so patronizing.
Apparently, I was the only one committed to funding the organization’s mission.
Even as a consultant, I’ve been brought on for one-hour board trainings where it was obvious that the organization had no consistent culture of philanthropy, and the board was warily tapped for this dirty thing known as “fundraising” just once or twice a year.
Do you get the picture now? Small shop fundraising is a tough, tough, tough job, and its difficulty is often underestimated, or ignored entirely. Is it really any wonder that the turnover rate is highest among small shop fundraisers? Far too often, an organization’s board and executive director are focused on the right here and right now.
But a smart development director is focused on the long-term sustainability of the organization. They’re in it for the long haul, and they’re working from the inside out, concerned with the right things. The important things.
So, what does that mean?
Aside from the recommendations cited in the report, organizations must view fundraising as their No. 1 priority, and everyone must be involved, working toward common goals and collectively maximizing potential. Remember, if you’re not committed to funding your mission, you’re not committed to your mission. Fundraising isn’t a dirty job that a select unlucky few are tasked to perform. It’s a cooperative endeavor through which everyone can find joy on their own terms.
As a new small shop development director, you have what it takes to generate impact right from the get-go. The very first step is, right out of the gate, to lead with authority. The second step is to have a plan. My Basics & More e-course, "Charting Your First 100 Days," is the holy grail for the small shop development director who is in it for the long haul. You’ll learn how to best navigate new territory by staying on the right track, focused on the important things. Because 100 days is the foundation for a sustainable future.
You’ll have the tools to make a difference quickly, while at the same time setting crucial standards to secure your organization’s future. You’ll build up your team’s confidence and trust in you and make it 100 percent clear that hiring you was the right choice. The smart choice. It’s no easy feat. And I totally get the lofty (and challenging) position you’re in. A development director’s worth is often hastily measured by those who lack a true understanding of how sustainable fundraising actually works. Today’s grant proposal will more than likely take months, if not years, to bear fruit. Building and growing individual and major gift relationships takes time, effort and dedication. And it takes a plan. Always remember that.
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.