A Forbes article from a couple of years ago said 45% of nonprofit employees will seek new jobs within five years.
Ten years ago, the Underdeveloped Report by CompassPoint found 50% of development directors planned to leave their current position within two years. The same study revealed 53% of executives reported their most recent development director hiring process attracted candidates who lacked the right mix of skills and experience.
Whether you’re a board member or nonprofit professional, we’ve all witnessed the revolving door in development. Imagine the collective cost and missed opportunities as a result. From my experience and this report, there are a few things we can do to help.
Here’s what you can do:
#1 – Understand fundraising is its own area of expertise
One of the most common reasons development directors leave is because expectations and strategies are not aligned. The expectation is for the development director to raise money. However, they are often asked to take on additional responsibilities and execute whatever fundraising ideas board members throw at them. The result is development directors end up playing the role of fundraiser/event planner/social media strategist/marketing director/public relations/graphic designer/meeting manager/bookkeeper/extra admin support/etc. Do not treat development as a “catch-all” department.
Your development director is a key organizational leader. Seek and listen to their advice. They’re the ones who know the best short-term and long-term fundraising strategies.They also bring the donor’s voice to the table. Evaluate what all you ask your development director to do and whether they have the adequate amount of time to spend on fundraising strategy and execution.
#2 – Get the board more engaged
In the Underdeveloped Report, 75% of executive directors said board member engagement in fundraising is lacking. A lot of boards make a good-hearted attempt to raise money. A common misstep many boards make is focusing on the actions or activities first. Diving right into the weeds causes the board to miss the bigger picture which is what they should be focused on.
Rather, the board should be asking better questions and engaging in more strategic fundraising discussions. For example: How are we evaluating fundraising effectiveness? What are we measuring? Is our current goal realistic? What do we want our fundraising to look like in 3 years?
Doing this in partnership with the executive director and development staff will result in greater clarity in fundraising priorities and the most effective strategies to hit the short-term and long-term fundraising goals.
#3 – Continuing education and training
I’m not the first to say that investing in professional development is important. Not only does it pay off in performance, it shows people their work is valued and the organization is investing in their success.
In the ten years since the Underdeveloped Report was written, I’ve seen even more organizations struggle to find people to fill fundraising positions with experience. It’s even more important organizations invest in the developemtn of their fundraising team. Professional development should be incorporated into the organization’s annual operating budget.
Luckily, there are many good options. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is an internaional organization with local chapters focused on ethical and effective fundraising. There’s also the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) for those who raise money in healthcare.
For more specialized training, consider hiring a coach or consultant to come alongside your board and development director. They can guide board members and staff through things like: how to measure fundraising effectiveness, how to write a development plan, how to have productive development committee meetings, how to make the ask, etc.
Whatever role you play in fundraising, thank you. Nonprofit organizations are making a huge difference in the world and our communities. Donors and those who work in fundraising are a vital part of that work.
All the best,
Kenny Sigler, CFRE