A very important report just came across my desk:  Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising  A joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, it documents what grantmakers and, I suspect, most nonprofit leaders    have known for decades: that the development (fundraising) staff position in nonprofit organizations is a continually revolving door that makes it nearly impossible for all but the largest nonprofits to attract and retain qualified and skilled fundraising staff.

The report is peppered with quotes from executive directors and development staff alike, and any nonprofit leader will recognize themselves and the challenges they face.  The report clearly documents the vicious cycle that perpetuates the sector’s lack of capacity and success.

The report chronicles the many reasons why this is the case, and it also recommends 10 action steps to address the challenges.  Each of these steps is vitally important and there are some for funders as well as for the nonprofit sector itself, but two struck me as particularly essential to get right even without addressing the others. 

“Share Accountability for Fundraising Results.”  The task of fundraising cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the development officer.  There must be a strong partnership with the executive director, with the board, and, yes, even with the rest of the staff.  There needs to be developed a “culture of philanthropy” within the organization and everyone must see themselves as part of the development team.

“Apply Transition Management to the Development Director Position.”  Most organizations have transition plans for the executive and the board chair.  With development being the most frequently vacated position in most nonprofits, it is critical that the relationships, strategies, processes, and internal supports not be lost in these transitions and that there be a plan to carry on when these transitions take place. 

This is a report worth reading by all nonprofit executive directors, development officers, and board chairs.  Hopefully, it can begin a fruitful conversation that can at least slow the revolving door and begin to make fundraising a goal and responsibility of the whole organization – not just the person honored (or burdened) with the title.

1 Comment

  1. Lenore Hanisch

    Great points! I just read it on the plane yesterday and completely agree. I especially think it’s worth reading if you are on the board of any nonprofit, not just if you’re the board chair. I’m grateful the board chair of Women Donors Network assigned it as homework for our whole board both for WDN and for us as individual funders.

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