The nonprofit media's been all abuzz this week with the publication of UnderDeveloped, a national study by CompassPoint and the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, both based in San Francisco. (See bottom for links.)
The study delineates the familiar vicious lifecycle of development directors in most nonprofits. It goes something like this: thinking that having a development director will save the day, not having enough money to hire one, finally getting the money, hiring the "wrong" person who never quite meets expectations, they leave, back to square one.
Moreover, it highlights what we have been watching and doing our best to impact over the past sixteen years at Benevon. The development director is doomed from the start when brought into an organization stuck in the old fundraising culture. In this outdated culture, entertainment-style events, direct mail appeals, and grant writing are standard fare in a development director job description. Whatever "major gifts work" gets done consists predominantly of board members making their own gifts and, in turn, pressuring their friends to give. When the board members turn over, their donor friends exit as well.
This culture is toxic to true development professionals. It breeds frustrated executive directors, revolving door development directors, and donor mistrust.
One of most articulate riffs off the study to date has been Rick Moyer's thoughtful post in his Against the Grain blog for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The piece is called Development Directors are Not Miracle Workers and I encourage you to read it in full.
His post cites several conditions that must be present for the work of a development director to be successful; i.e., to produce the transformation most nonprofits are seeking when they finally make the leap.
Here's what he says:
Hiring a development director will only be transformative under the right conditions, which include:
- A board and executive who view bringing on a development director as a strategy for expanding and enhancing their essential roles in fundraising, rather than a way to avoid or minimize their involvement.
- A clear job description for the development director, with realistic performance expectations on the part of the executive director and board.
- A high level of trust and engagement between the executive director and the development director.
- Input from the development director on budgets and fundraising goals.
- A willingness on the part of the organization to invest in systems and infrastructure, such as software and formal planning, to support fundraising.
- An understanding among all staff that fundraising and stewardship are part of everyone's job, not the responsibility of one person, and that fundraising is important programmatic work—not just a necessary evil.
That last bullet point is the real bear. Here it is again, in case you missed it: