As the Face of Philanthropy Changes, So Should the Faces that Promote It

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

Call it “Development for a New Millennium:” with the rise of online giving, the popularity of strategic charitable investments, and untold changes in not just how but where people are giving (as evidenced by the recent GivingUSA report on giving in 2011), the need for strong professional leadership, in the form of a talented Development Director to ensure effective fundraising efforts within a nonprofit organization, is more important than ever.

The undeniable importance of the individual donor remains paramount, and all too often, the organizational representative that donors interact with most at a nonprofit is the Development Director. In concert with the Executive Director, the leader of the development department quite often serves as the “face” of the organization, representing its programs and cultivating its supporters.

A strong Development Director must partner with, educate, and motivate an organization’s Executive Staff, and empower the Executive Director to inspire the Board of Directors as well as work hand-in-hand with campaign leadership and/or consultants for specific campaigns. She/he must be detail-oriented, work well on a team, and understand a variety of fundraising tasks, including gift acquisition, stewardship of donors, communication strategy, corporate giving, and both the writing and monitoring of foundation grants and government contracts.

Large development departments have the luxury of assigning specialized tasks to supporting professionals, such as major gift officers, grant writers, and planned giving specialists.

However, in many small and medium sized nonprofits, a Development Director is really a Development Department, with one individual often juggling the tasks of foundation, government, and individual giving as well as creating and coordinating the bulk of an agency’s communication strategies.

As the traditional donor pool ages, the central question posed to every development team is: “How do we engage younger supporters?” Millennials may not be giving much right now, but a growing percentage of them are giving and many will continue to do so. A recent report by the Huffington Post reported that 75% of Millennials polled gave money to charitable causes within the past year, with 15% donating more than $500. The world of emerging major donors is one filled with technology, impact assessment, and entrepreneurship. (Note: about two-thirds of all Americans make charitable gifts each year.)

In light of this, we, at EHL Consulting, propose five new essential qualities of the modern-day Development Director, with input from a few others:

1. Social Media Savvy with an Interest in Technology
To thrive in the new fundraising arena, nonprofit professionals must not only understand the uses of social media and web presence, but leverage them effectively and target constituencies appropriately.

“What I see lacking in almost all of the postings is the social media component: how to use social media to raise funds online,” says Benjamin Brown, president of, regarding the job listings that nonprofits submit to his website. “It’s definitely not part of the tool set that employers look for as a requirement, and it absolutely should be because it’s the primary way the younger generation likes to interact.”

2. Creative Prospect Research Skills that Go Beyond the Standard Rolodex
Eschewing the practice of mobilizing the same donors over and over again, smart new Develop Directors instead seek out new donors based on affinity for the mission, not merely because they are the friends of generous friends. They pursue those donors through the use of online tools and through data mining, which come with risks and with an element of “cold calling.” Taking the extra step of integrating affinity with prior connection is the key to greater success and traction.

William Hochman, CEO of the Joel Paul Group, a leading New York executive search firm primarily helping Jewish nonprofits, describes the changing landscape where donors are becoming more interested in personal philanthropy and less interested in supporting only those organizations that are in the spotlight.

“If you’re smart, you think about what your younger constituency enjoys,” he explains. “Not only what they enjoy about your cause, but why they would want to give to it and through what venues. The sit-down dinner with three hours of speeches is no longer compelling. You have to be creative.”

3. Strong Writing Skills … on Paper AND on the Web
These days, it’s not enough for a development professional to only know how to write a compelling grant narrative, printed newsletter, or direct mail missive that would make Mal Warwick swoon. Today’s development professionals also need to write correctly for online consumption.

As one participant in the recently released Millennial Impact Report describes, “I judge the character of the organization with its presence on the web.” That same study reported that 70% of young donors gave online, but only 34% gave via mail. Therefore, your organization’s value proposition needs to be front and center on your website, and it needs to be immediately inspiring.

4. Outgoing Personality and the Ability to Listen
“Outgoing personality” was the number one quality that organizational representatives look for in a Development Director, according to both our website poll and a Facebook poll. Professionals who are friendly, interesting, and enthusiastic about an organization are going to sell it the best in the shortest amount of time. While this is clearly not a scientific analysis, it does give us insight into what nonprofits need.

Equally important is a Development Director who can listen. Understanding the needs of each special donor is often the result of focused listening. A thoughtful, patient development professional will listen to donors or volunteers who are upset, will keep his/her cool in a crisis, keep his/her superiors advised and engaged, and will know when to call in “reinforcements” in the form of the CEO or Board members.

5. A Background in the Basics … or a Willingness to Learn
Even though the medium of fundraising communication may be changing rapidly, the message is still very much the same: donors must be asked for a gift, and then they must be thanked for that gift. Contrary to popular belief, fundraising success can be very formulaic, and it can be learned.

“The overriding criteria is experience, but it’s all about fit and personality at the end of the day,” concludes Hochman. “Who they are and how they do things and how they get along with certain types of people: that’s not on a resume. You have to meet with the person and get a real feel for how they’ll fit into your organization’s culture.”

By prioritizing these five qualities in addition to the “standbys,” your organization will be better positioned to attract and retain a Development Director for the New Millennium, one that enables success and inspires donors to step forward.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook; TWITTER: @EHLConsultGrp; EHL Consulting Group Blog: