The Report that Rocked – and Can Change – our (Development) World

As talented and committed a fundraiser may be, they are only as successful as their working partnerships with CEOs, other key staff, and board members.

by Barbara Maduell

From the internet to water coolers across the country, the nonprofit world is abuzz with the findings of a new study done by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund: Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising. The report should be of interest and concern to every organization that relies on philanthropic revenue to fulfill its mission. The headlines: one-half of development directors are dissatisfied with their jobs; many feel unsupported by their bosses, intend to leave their positions, and their successors will be very hard to find. While the study likely will validate many professionals working in the trenches and frighten members around the board table, the more upbeat news is that three other findings in the study illuminate a unique aspect of the fundraising professional’s job and also signal opportunities to turn around the trends. Those findings?

  • 75 percent of executives think their board members are not engaged enough in fundraising
  • More than 25 percent of executives self-identify as having little or no competency in fundraising
  • Almost one-half of development directors do not feel they influence key decisions around fundraising – their own turf!

So here’s the real headline: as talented and committed a fundraiser may be, they are only as successful as their working partnerships with CEOs, other key staff, and board members. In other words – and this shouldn’t be a surprise – no single development director can build an effective fundraising program. It takes an organizational village. Here are six suggestions for your CEO and board members that won’t cost a dime and are guaranteed to contribute to your development leader’s satisfaction and effectiveness. Your organization can start this week!

For executives:

  • If your DD is new to the field, find them a mentor outside of your organization. Successful fundraisers are passionate about their causes and about their work. Take advantage of formal mentorship programs offered by professional associations in your area. If there’s not one in your community, ask your peers to suggest a veteran who would be willing to share their experience, and serve as a sounding board, with your newcomer.
  • Be honest with your DD about your own fundraising skill set and level. Then work with them to identify the tools, resources, and learnings you need so you can meaningfully supervise them.
  • Sit with your DD to review your own portfolio of top prospects, and the next steps for each. You don’t have your own portfolio? Begin by identifying the three to five donors you will cultivate on a regular basis, and partner with your DD to identify specific next steps for each one.
  • Make your DD a member of the leadership team. They already are? Then make sure they regularly report to other senior staff on both financial and non-financial development successes and challenges (“We met our number for the year!” isn’t enough).
  • Include your development director at the table when your organization is making critical decisions. If the finance committee is creating next year’s budget, invite your DD’s expertise to shape fundraising goals based on informed projections, vs. the need for a balanced budget. If the organization is launching a strategic planning process, make sure they participate in setting top priorities. If you’re considering a major program initiative, look to them to analyze the difference philanthropy could make in launching and sustaining the program.

For board members:

  • Like executives, you may not know how to leverage your passion and commitment with supporters of your organization. Dedicate time at a board meeting to identify what the board as a whole needs to successfully engage in fundraising. What are today’s barriers to success?
  • Accept invitations to meet with your DD one-on-one. Yes, you’re both busy, but the relationship you build with each other will model those you’ll build with other supporters, and make your work together more fun. Be open about your strengths and interests and how much you can take on. Insist on accountability from your DD, but be specific: do you need a monthly reminder, talking points, or some training?

We’ve heard chocolate helps too.

Barbara Maduell, CFRE, is a former development professional in Seattle’s Jewish community; she is currently a senior consultant with The Collins Group.