Do You Know Where Your Development Director is Right Now?

Chances are pretty good that while you are reading this blog, your development director or one of your key development staff is probably either out looking for a job, or actively being recruited for one.

by Lou Feldstein

According to a new study, conducted by CompassPoint and commissioned by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the nonprofit fundraising landscape is in need of tremendous restructuring and re-engineering. The study, “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges facing Nonprofit Fundraising” reveals “that many nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed”. The odds are that the organization you work for, or care about, is probably just like those in the study. If that’s an accurate assessment then your fundraising challenges probably has less to do with the economy and more to do with looking in the mirror. Although rich in findings, a couple of significant highlights bear immediate acknowledgment:

  • Between 38% and 57% of Development Directors anticipate leaving their jobs within two years;
  • Less than 4 in 10 of Executive Directors are satisfied with their Development Directors;
  • 25 percent of executives surveyed in the report state that their organization’s most recent development director was fired – and 62 percent of those firings were for performance inadequacies.

The onus for all this does not rest solely with the fundraising staff. The issues confronting nonprofit fundraising are holistic in nature and permeate multiple facets of an organization. For example, the study found that:

  • 75 percent of executive directors surveyed (82% of executives from organizations with budgets under $1m) say that board members are NOT sufficiently involved in fundraising;
  • 79 percent of executive directors surveyed agreed that they should be competent in securing gifts but over one quarter acknowledged that they were novices in this area. Among high performers, less than 50% “loved” asking for gifts;
  • 32 percent of those organizations with budgets under $1m surveyed reported having no fundraising data base and 31 percent had no fundraising plan in place.

Last week I was in Miami leading a seminar entitled The Five plus Two Essential Elements to be an Effective Fundraising Organization. While I focused on seven specific elements, one overriding theme, which was identified in the study, connected all the elements – and resonated with those in attendance. For any nonprofit to truly be successful at fundraising, it has to embrace an overarching “culture of philanthropy” that envelops every facet of the organization. Fundraising cannot be seen as a series of one-off activities performed by distinct professionals. Rather, for any nonprofit to have fundraising success, everyone within the organization (from the janitor to the program staff person, to the Executive Director) must see themselves as engaging with and performing donor development.

Several years ago while traveling on a Disney Cruise this essential fundraising lesson was affirmed in very real terms. Due to weather issues, our ship was unable to dock at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. For my kids, another sea day was not on their list of “creating Disney memories”. Depressed and upset they decided to hang out in the room for a while and despair in life’s ultimate unfairness. It was at that moment, when life had lost all meaning for them (ok – a bit of an over-dramatization) that the cabin steward came by to make the beds. Although he had hundreds of beds to make and rooms to clean, he instead stopped, and for about 30 minutes taught the kids how to fold the towels into animal shapes. This ended up being one of the kid’s best memories from the cruise. Was this in his job description? Probably not, but what he understood, and what defines the Disney culture is that his job, like everyone else’s was to create life memories.

So, too it is with EVERYONE who works as a professional or volunteer for a nonprofit. Donors are the life blood. While each has a primary job, everyone shares one common goal – to help create and nurture donors. It is only within such a culture of philanthropy that an organization’s mission can truly be fulfilled.

Louis Feldstein is the Founder and CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, LLC a change management consulting practice focused on nonprofit and faith based organizations, academic institutions and mission driven businesses. He can be reached at