Fundraising Good Times
Development director turnover: Are fundraising fables getting in your way?
By Pearl and Mel Shaw
Why is it so hard to retain fund development professionals? That’s the polite version of the question that has executive directors pulling their hair out, and nonprofit board members wondering “what’s going on?”
“One of the reasons we continue to see so much turn-over in fundraising staff is the pervasive misunderstanding of how fund-raising works, shares Leyna Bernstein, founder of Leadership Search Partners. With this column we bring you excerpts from her column on Fundraising Fables.
Fable 1: We hire a development director to do our fundraising for us.
Fact: Success in fundraising comes from building a shared responsibility for cultivating and stewarding donors throughout the organization. The board and the executive director share accountability with the chief development officer. The job of your development director is to create the organization’s fundraising plan and oversee its implementation, not to make all of your calls. For this role, planning, coaching, managing and mentoring are more important tasks than solicitation.”
We couldn’t say it more succinctly. In our experience it is a lack of understanding of the fundraising process on the part of the executive director and board that leads to a harmful disconnect between nonprofit executive directors and development directors.
Fable 3: We will hire a fundraiser who will bring his donor rolodex with him.
Fact: Really? Do you give your money to the fundraiser, or to the cause? Ethical fundraisers are not going to “bring their donors with them”. While fundraisers may have existing relationships that can open some doors, and while having a fundraiser with exceptional relational skills is critical, it is your cause and impact that will attract investment.
There are two faces to this fable: sometimes the nonprofit who wants to “hire a rolodex” and other times a development professional is “selling” her rolodex. When making a hire don’t look to use another organization’s relationships – build your own, for most are not transferrable. We know of too many instances where candidates promote their relationships with donors/funders, forgetting that the relationships are really between donors/funders and the organization not the individual.
Fable 4: A track-record of big asks is an indicator of ability to be a development director.
Development Director Turnover: Are fundraising fables getting in your way?
Fact: Executive Directors and board members get in trouble when they hire major gifts officers and expect them to manage a department and build infrastructure. Many accomplished major gifts fundraisers are specialists and outstanding individual contributors. They are not necessarily suited to running a department and managing systems
This fable is also present within institutions of higher education. Failing to provide increasing levels of compensation and recognition to talented major gifts officers can lead them to apply for vice president positions which may not necessarily be a match for their skills.