Why Are Development Directors Discouraged From Doing Their Job?

Photo by Victor1558
Patrick Sallee

Editor’s Note: Patrick Sallee lives/works in Kansas City, and is the Chief Development Officer for the American Red Cross. He also serves on the board of Nonprofit Connect–a local organization that helps nonprofit professionals connect and broaden their skills. And to top it of, he’s the father of 3 year-old twin girls! You can follow him on Twitter @patricksallee.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the Compasspoint survey, Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising. It is an interesting read, and important topic as there are some clear industry challenges facing the sector when it comes to sustaining fundraising success.

I’m sure we can agree that there is a “revolving door” problem in the development field. While there are many issues at play with what causes this, and what would be good fixes, each one would be worth a deep dive and discussion.

But first, I’d suggest that there’s a much bigger issue here that has to be addressed. In fact, it’s the foundation of all of this.

As professional fundraisers, we need to learn ways to hold ourselves more accountable.

There were some glaring statistics from this study that get overlooked on our way to blame our volunteers for not being involved enough, or our CEO for being too much of a micro-manager.

#1: 40% of Development Directors indicated they aren’t committed to careers in fundraising

This is scary. 40% of the people responsible for leading the revenue aspect of important nonprofit work, not only question whether they want to be at XYZ org, but they’re not sure they even want to do fundraising.

Perhaps here, we should wonder if a lot of people get into the profession without a clear understanding of what the job is.

Does this mean these many people don’t like asking for money?

#2: 23% of the nonprofits surveyed have no fundraising plan in place.

1/4 of organizations surveyed didn’t have a fundraising plan. These are organizations with a person cashing a paycheck, charged with raising money for the organization—without a plan. Keep in mind, with this survey, fundraisers are also saying, “My board doesn’t engage in fundraising,” and “We don’t have a culture of philanthropy,” and so on.

Who is responsible for the plan at your organization? And is the board included in approving or setting the plan?

#3. 75% of executives called board engagement “insufficient.”

Every single blog post, book, article, etc. on nonprofit fundraising talks about board engagement, and how important it is. The reality is that boards collectively aren’t engaged in fundraising. Not many people like to do it, they don’t fully understand the details, and it turns into, “I give to yours, you give to mine.”

When organizations hit their revenue goals, the board is great and gets credit (as they should), but when they miss their goals, they blame the staff (and behind closed doors, the staff blames the board). Success and failure depends upon the staff. Some high profile boards may have heavy hitters that give big and raise big, but these are few.

So as fundraisers, let’s start thinking about what we can do at our organizations to move the needle rather than shift the blame. Ask yourself how you set expectations for your board’s giving and receiving.

This report brings to light some great issues that need to be addressed in order for the nonprofit sector to treat development careers with more care. It starts with us, acting more professionally. It starts with taking some accountability on our own for the success and failure of our efforts. It starts with us being advocates for nonprofit careers, not just development work. It starts with us committing to this profession as a lifelong career, to make a difference in the lives of people in our community.

It’s a noble profession and one people should be proud to pursue. What are your thoughts on this finding?