Firing Your Development Director? Join the Club


I remember when, decades ago, a community foundation in the Northeast decided to study the outcome of a grants initiative to build fundraising capacity at local nonprofits. Many of those grants were targeted to seed the funding of a development director under the assumption that the position would pay for itself many times over in subsequent years. The outcomes, long term, were not good. In fact, many of those hired under the special grants soon left and the organizations’ budgets were as depressed as ever (as were the executives of said organizations).

At the time, many believed that the problem was in the idea that you could insert a fundraising position into a nonprofit and that that step in and of itself would result in better fundraising. And why not? It is logical to believe that an organization with a powerful mission but no one to organize a fundraising program would benefit from foundation seed funding to create such a position.

The only problem was, in many cases, it just did not work and many smaller nonprofit organizations and boards have spent the ensuing 20-plus years chasing the dream of the magically effective development director only to be disappointed by the results when they actually bring someone into that position.

Now comes an excellent report by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund titled “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.” The report starts with an acknowledgement of the fact that, in many nonprofits, the development director is a “revolving door” position. Moreover, many organizations with the position on the books will leave the position open for periods that stretch from six months on out to two years or even more in some cases.

The report finds that this position is just plain unstable in many organizations and is often plagued with high turnover, long vacancies, issues with performance and a lack of commitment to development as a career among development directors. What is a nonprofit to do to interrupt the cycle?

Development Director Struggles and Turbulence

The report surveyed more than 2,700 executive directors and development directors nationwide and what it found was that, when it comes to the development function, many organizations are caught in a vicious cycle: the pre-conditions for success are not present, so the development function experiences volatility. This often includes extended periods during which no one is on the job, which exacerbates the problem in missing out on pre-conditions for success and thus makes the next person’s job that much harder.

According to the report, turbulence and turnover in the development position is widespread, though worse in smaller organizations. More than half of the executive directors surveyed felt that their most recent hiring process for the position had attracted an inadequate pool of qualified candidates. For those nonprofits with development directors currently on staff, the level of satisfaction with them increased with the size of the nonprofit’s budget. That’s not surprising, but most shocking is the fact that 25 percent of executives surveyed in the report state that their organization’s most recent development director was fired—and 62 percent of those firings were for performance inadequacies. This is little wonder since executives surveyed reported that 26 percent of development directors overall (and 38 percent among smaller nonprofits) are novices when it comes to securing gifts. This does not denote a great deal of confidence.

Before we go any further, it is worth mentioning that there is a world of difference in the salaries of development directors surveyed working in organizations with budgets of less than $1 million ($49,141 average), those surveyed working in organizations with budgets of $5 million to $10 million ($80,015 average) and those working with budgets of $10 million and up ($100,127 average). Unsurprisingly, a much higher percentage (23 percent) of development directors making less than $50,000 are seen as novices at securing donations in comparison to those making more than $50,000 (eight percent).

Those working in nonprofits with budgets under $1 million had less at hand to work with since 32 percent of those surveyed reported having no fundraising data base and 31 percent had no fundraising plan in place. On-the-job training for these development directors may be something of a crapshoot, as well. According to the report, while 79 percent of executive directors surveyed agreed that they should be competent in securing gifts, 26 percent said they were novices in this area as well.

Mostly Not Great: The Development Director Picture in Organizational Context

On top of all of that, there seems to be a gap in perception about the strength of the partnership between development directors and executives. Only 41 percent of development directors surveyed described the relationship as strong in contrast to 53 percent of those executive directors surveyed. Conversely, 21 percent of development directors saw the relationship as weak or nonexistent, as compared to only 14 percent of executives. The report also found that development director perceptions differed from executive directors in their gauge of fundraising effectiveness; while 43 percent of development directors surveyed saw programs as “not at all” or “somewhat” effective, only 18 percent of executives in the study shared that perspective.

As for boards and development directors, must we even say it? Boards don’t appear to be making the development director role much easier. Predictably, 75 percent of executive directors surveyed (and 82 percent of executives surveyed from organizations with budgets of less than $1 million) say that board members are not sufficiently involved in fundraising even though 64 percent have board fundraising committees in place. Sigh.

So what have we learned from this report? The position of development director often:

  • Is occupied by someone who has no experience or is a novice at securing gifts;
  • Is unguided by a fundraising plan and unsupported by a fundraising data base;
  • Is paid worse in organizations that require more base building and systems development than in organizations that already have momentum and a full toolkit;
  • Is plagued by widespread ambivalence on the part of board members even though development directors probably believe that part of their job is to mobilize board members; and
  • Disappoints – and maybe the individual most disappointed is the development director.

What Distinguished “High Performer” Organizations?

The report also chose to highlight a group of organizations that it defined as “high performers.” These were nonprofits which raised more than 25 percent of their annual budgets from individual gifts and which saw their fundraising program as highly effective. Some of the more marked differences between these organizations and others in the sample were related to the organization’s executive director. Among high performers, the executive more often “loved” asking for gifts (44 percent compared to 28 percent in the rest of the sample). Additionally, the executive more often had previous development experience (38 percent compared to 24 percent in the rest of the sample).

Among high performer organizations, the development director position appears to have been more integrated into the organization than among the rest of the sample. According to the study’s findings, the development director has a lot of influence on financial goals at 64 percent of high performing organizations as opposed to 37 percent in the rest of the sample.

One interesting point that is, perhaps, a bit counterintuitive deals with respondents’ feelings about their organizations’ culture of philanthropy, which the report discusses in some detail:

“While familiar to fundraising professionals, the term culture of philanthropy is not yet well understood nor commonly used across the sector. Not to be confused with institutional grant making or the act of giving money as a donor, a culture of philanthropy refers to a set of organizational values and practices that support and nurture development within a nonprofit organization. For the purposes of this study we used the following definition: Most people in the organization (across positions) act as ambassadors and engage in relationship building. Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving. Fund development is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program of the organization. Organizational systems are established to support donors. The executive director is committed and personally involved in fundraising.”

The counterintuitive point is that even though larger organizations generally had better fundraising results, they were also more likely to report that they lacked a culture of philanthropy (as 50 percent said they did) than the smallest organizations surveyed (of which only 38 percent said they lacked a culture of philanthropy). The report speculates that this may be due to the fact that development teams in larger organizations may be more professionalized and departmentalized, but the study found that:

  • 36 percent of development directors at high performing nonprofits strongly agreed that their organization had a “culture of philanthropy” as compared to just 12 percent in the rest of the sample;
  • 59 percent of development directors at high performing nonprofits strongly agreed that their organizations were good stewards for donors as opposed to 32 percent in the rest of the sample; and
  • 57 percent of development directors at high performing nonprofits felt valued for their skills, knowledge and expertise, as compared to 31 percent in the rest of the sample.

Interrupting the Pattern

The “Underdeveloped” study makes a number of calls to action but those that we find most compelling have to do with the need for nonprofits to shift their mental models on development. The authors rightly point out that if executives and the board don’t love asking for money, that attitude may be infusing the organization with a sense of ambivalence. If executives and boards are heated about getting the money in the door but unable to enthusiastically integrate it into their work, they may be expecting a lot of the development director position at the same time that they are isolating or marginalizing it—and dooming it to failure.

The idea of cultivating a culture of philanthropy in nonprofits, is certainly not new and there should be no “aha!” in this idea for nonprofits. For those of us who need donations and contributions in order to function at high capacity, ignoring the need to focus more organizational attention on pre-conditions for success is tantamount to a business ignoring persistent major problems (pricing, marketing, competition) in one of its core transactional areas. It creates a lack of sustainability and, yes, credibility. Fundraising cannot be tangential to our work. It is part and parcel of it and to make the whole deal work properly, we have to be sure that we are not repeating patterns that lead to underperforming.

There is no doubt that it is more difficult for smaller organizations without adequate budgets and tools but the world of development has changed significantly over the past decade and in this new networked world, there are certainly ways for philanthropy and capacity-builders to ease those issues…but in cases where the barriers in our way are a lack of institutional enthusiasm for the task? As the authors say, it is time for a new embrace.

NPQ would love to hear your thoughts on how we might begin to restructure our thinking and practice as far as development and development directors are concerned. What have you tried in your own practice and how did it work? We want to hear your strategies.

  • NonprofProf

    I am still laughing at this line: “that 25 percent of executives surveyed in the report state that their organization’s most recent development director was fired—and 62 percent of those firings were for performance inadequacies.” Don’t believe it. This is a face-saving rationale by the CEOs. I was fired as a Development Director once, and I am sure the university VP responsible would have claimed the same. In fact, this small southern school was hide-bound, inflexible, without strong strategic direction, with a president and board I rarely saw, and with an unbelievably dysfunctional organizational culture. Suffice it to say that my efforts to improve things were not reciprocated. The fact that Development Directors report lower satisfaction with program effectiveness is a sure sign that they know a bad culture when they see it, but perhaps are unable to improve things on their own. I am just relieved that I created a second career for myself in academia, where I can help students learn how to create high performing organizations.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Thanks, NPQ, for doing an article on this interesting report. I will be doing a series of blogs on my homepage,, regarding the report. I was honored to be part of the advisory group that helped develop the survey. We all sure do have lots of work to do….
    — To build the support system and infrastructure for effective fund development and effective fundraisers
    — To develop the skills and knowledge of fundraisers
    — To engage the executive director and board members
    — Etc. etc. etc.

    And so many of my NPQ web columns address all of the issues found in the report.

  • Paul Jolly

    Great survey — thanks for broadcasting the results. Too often, in my experience, organizations hire their first fund raiser prematurely. That is, before they have put together a plan or done some soul-searching about the role of the ED and board in fund raising. Some honestly believe that it is better to give the new hire a blank slate to work on. And some do “dump delegation” — in other words hoping that hiring someone will make the problem go away. It is much easier for a fund raiser to succeed if she come in knowing what the different income streams are, what the role of the board and ED are going to be, and what the benchmarks of success for the first 6 months are.

  • Mazarine Treyz

    Having a fundraising plan, having a board that cares about fundraising, and having a culture of philanthropy are all vital tools that help nonprofits succeed, let alone development directors.

    So often, small nonprofits have none of these things.

    I’ve written how to hire a development director:

    And I’ve written extensively about why development directors fail, everything from;

    Unrealistic expectations,
    Inadequate pay and training,
    Lack of database or willingness by leadership to acquire databases, etc. (one of my personal pet peeves)

    But the key issue, the one that everyone seems to overlook, is that development directors are never supported enough by the organization. Think of it this way.

    It’s like a company with only one salesperson and no customer service people. Big companies with a million+ dollar budgets have five or more salespeople, all responsible for bringing in big deals. Not to mention customer service people, and databases, a marketing budget, marketing plan, and clear followup methods. Most development professionals have none of these things. Yet they are tasked with raising a million plus dollars.

    What is most surprising is how often they succeed, despite the lack of bonuses, support and rewards available in the for-profit sector.

    And even when they succeed, they still get fired. So what’s a fundraising professional to do?

    I think we need to agitate for better working conditions. With the at-will-employment in nearly every US state in effect, it’s hard to feel a sense of loyalty to any organization, when they can fire you for no reason. Really, literally, no reason.

    I’ve written about fundraising unions here:

    What do you think? Are unions the answer? How can we improve working conditions so that our fundraising professionals have more motivation and are better set up to succeed?

    I would love to hear your thoughts, or get your comments on my posts above.



  • John Godfrey

    One solution would be for more development directors to move into CEO positions. Another would be for more development directors to take on voluntary roles as board members of other nonprofits. Now there’s a thought 😉

  • Kristin Coombes

    While this trend is quite disturbing, sadly it is not surprising. It seems that in many organizations the creation of a dedicated development director position was viewed as a panacea. Many boards, and occasionally director,s thought some gleaming superhero in a cape was going to come in and solve all their financial problems. Too often this view led many nonprofit leaders to take a hands off approach to fundraising rather than embracing a truly integrated strategy. I hope to see more NPO’s embracing the development of a culture of philanthropy and a team approach rather than the superhero mentality.

    Perhaps if we create a position for a “fundraising coach,” expectations will be more realistic, and the idea of team buy-in is assumed.

  • Pespenshade

    I agree that integration is key. In my casual observations over the years I have found that one area of integration that is frequently overlooked is integration into the mission and program of the organization. Development staff that are integrated into some of the program work are happier, better performers, and are more likely to stay. I have found this to be true regardless of staff experience or organizational size.

    Otherwise, these development staffers can be isolated as mercenaries.

    Examples I have noted include: a development officer at a youth corps given a couple of days a year to teach flyfishing to corps members, college advancement staff teaching a course or taking a course, fundraisers at a homeless shelter helping to review cases, etc.

    The development staff is invested in the program, the integration is more meaningful, and they are more successful in talking about the importance of the programs because they are part of the programs.

  • Susan Ruderman

    Great topic! Would love to hear more responses and comments from EDs/CEOs–especially about how they arrive at their expectations (both explicit and implicit) for the DoD. Perceived budget necessity often seems to be a more significant driving force than true organizational reflection and assessment. So how can the nonprofit community as a whole help everyone make better decisions? Maybe the only effective pressure for change will come from funders. Just as banks require a home inspection before writing a mortgage, perhaps nonprofits (either hiring a first DoD or turning over an existing DoD position before 3 years have passed) should be required to undergo a capacity audit in order to identify likely barriers to success and formulate a plan for remedying them.

    But the first step will include getting this discussion in front of the people who are most central to it: boards and executive directors.

  • Jeanne Bell, CEO at CompassPoint and report Co-Author

    Hi Paul. Your comment resonates a lot with our focus group data as well. I like your notion of the premature hire, especially for this role, which requires extensive collaboration with many other people on staff and board to be effective. In the same vein, one of our calls to action is to treat Development Director transitions with the same care and strategy that the field now takes Executive Director transition.

  • Tom King

    My three decades in the nonprofit development racket were mostly spent with small struggling startups. I’ve so far helped or led startup teams for 5 nonprofit or educational organizations and several community initiatives. I never got paid more than a first year teacher’s salary and often was expected to “donate” my time for free. You are spot on in your observation that there is a problem with many nonprofits’ understanding of what a development program is all about. In many cases, it takes the death, retirement or dismissal of the founder of the organization before a real development program can be put in place.

    Any organization whose executive director or founder still has his hands firmly on the tiller and who has assembled a compliant board of directors who support him or her consistently, by definition is not going to be capable of getting anything really useful out of a development director, other than to hire some poor schmuck to come in every couple of years to clean up the PR mess that has accumulated since the last time they hired a DD. We usually double as public relations officers in these types of organizations – in fact, that was my actual title at one npo, though I was expected to raise money like a development officer.

    Most boards of this type see themselves as the Big Gun and the DD is the ammo. The expectation is that all they have to do that simply select a high-powered development guy, load him up and pull the trigger and cash will rain down from the philanthropic trees.

    The only problem is that at the same time the DD is seen as an interloperr by the ED/founder. The DD, if hired from the outside, is seen as someone without a stake in the organization, no history and no standing. If the DD is an elevated staff member, they become a “prophet without honor in his own land”.

    Even more fun are the messes you get to clean up. At one place, about a week after I joined up, I found a newspaper in one of my predecessors stacks of paperwork. It was a front page picture and headline that, when I saw it, I realized
    my job was going to be far more difficult than I had imagined. I spent two years cleaning up our image in the community, handled a PR crisis or two and carefully rebuilt our reputation in the philanthropy community. Once there, we were ready to begin courting some large donations when a board member and my ED brought me in and told me I had to raise $400,000 in four months to buy a piece of property the board member had once owned for an expansion of the program that wasn’t really thought out yet.

    When I asked the board for its help, I was asked to leave.

    Like you said, Ruth, many nonprofits have no idea what to look for in a DD, are unwilling to invest in what it takes to make a development program work and have wildly unrealistic expectations for the poor soul who takes the job.

    I learned pretty quickly that if the folks wanting to hire you expect you to raise more money using the same methods they’ve always used, you should turn down the job, no matter what they offer to pay you. Development is by its very nature a slow and deliberate process. A DD is not a salesman. If you aren’t going to make him an integral part of the leadership team at your organization, do yourself a favor and don’t waste your money on a development officer. Do your own fund-raising.

  • Jeanne Bell, CEO at CompassPoint an report co-author

    This is a great point. The dynamics between boards and DDs and CEOs and DDs are so central to fundraising success. It can become habitual and extremely unproductive for each to ‘other’ the other. Moving across the roles or holding two at once could mitigate this.

  • Jeanne Bell, CEO at CompassPoint and report co-author

    I am not excited by unionization as a response but, I really love this point of yours:

    It’s like a company with only one salesperson and no customer service people. Big companies with a million+ dollar budgets have five or more salespeople, all responsible for bringing in big deals. Not to mention customer service people, and databases, a marketing budget, marketing plan, and clear followup methods. Most development professionals have none of these things. Yet they are tasked with raising a million plus dollars.

    That’s a great analogy for what so many call the “set-up.”

  • Aria Edry, Edry and Associates

    OMG, How familiar are all these comments! I could go on and on about some of my experiences over the last several decades, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I am gratified that this issue has finally arisen and now being discussed openly. It is a very serious and pervasive problem, and as a consultant with a number of small organizations that are still in the start-up phase of their life cycle, the question of infrastructure, establishing pre-conditions for successful fundraising, instilling a culture of philanthropy, strategic thinking and planning and follow-through, data management, etc. are constant areas I hammer home with clients. I am wondering why the AFP doesn’t address this issue. Can others on this site, if members, urge their chapters to step up and address the many facets of this issue. Thank you Ruth for sharing this critical study with your many appreciative readers, and of course, I include myself!

  • Marla Cornelius

    I appreciate your comment Tom, and I’m glad that you brought up the comparison of development to sales. This came up in many of our discussions and it was interesting to hear how many times both executive directors and development directors talked about the ways development was and was not sales. We also heard a lot of comparisons to marketing and communications. In fact, a number of EDs that we spoke to were considering belnding the development director job description with that of the communications director. While I do think more thoughtful, tailored and realistic job descriptions are an important piece, I have some questions about combining these roles. Curious to hear if others have seen this work or not?

  • Marla Cornelius

    I appreciate your comment Tom, and I’m glad that you brought up the comparison of development to sales. This came up in many of our discussions and it was interesting to hear how many times both executive directors and development directors talked about the ways development was and was not sales. We also heard a lot of comparisons to marketing and communications. In fact, a number of EDs that we spoke to were considering belnding the development director job description with that of the communications director. While I do think more thoughtful, tailored and realistic job descriptions are an important piece, I have some questions about combining these roles. Curious to hear if others have seen this work or not?

  • Gail Mountain

    My experience in this subject matter is based on observation for a very different segment of the work but I’ve often thought a structure that gives the fund seeker or seekers a percentage of the funds (no matter how small) might be a wonderful incentive to over perform. Just a little food for thought.

  • Cheryl Kester, CFRE

    An aspect of this study that none of the comments have addressed so far is the not too suprising fact that when small nonprofits advertise for development directors, they get so few candidates or candidates they feel are unqualified. This clearly has a direct correlation to the figure that states that 38% of the DDs at smaller organizations have no experience securing gifts.

    A few things are going on there. First, it looks like most experienced fundraisers do not even look at what are essentially entry-level positions when they come open at smaller nonprofits. I mean, really, I can usually read a position description and quickly assess the huge list of unreasonable expectations of the position and read volumes into that. Unless a person is heading to retirement and want to take on building a development system from the ground up as their legacy for a cause they are passionate about, most successful senior fundraising professionals have been around the block a few times and see no need to even apply for those positions.

    Second, I am completely stymied by the fact that if an organization feels it has to hire someone with no experience to fill such an important position, the board does not insist on investing in professional development for that person immediately. Send her to local AFP meetings, make sure he attends important conferences at least twice per year, support her in finding and working with a mentor in the field, send him off to the library two days a month for basic fundraising books. It makes you want to slap your forehead and say “duh!” Yes, I do understand how it “really works.” I know that most of these organizations choose to allocate no budget at all to support the poor newly-hired DD who is about to be thrown to the wolves.

    Third is the concept advanced by the EDs that DDs do not treat fundraising as a professional and seem to not exhibit professional competency. I would submit that an incredible amount of the blame for that falls on the organization for not valuing the position enough and treating it as a professional position. Back to point two, if the organization would invest in and insist that the new DD meet and network with other professionals in the field as quickly as possible, that would go a long way toward helping this (probably) young person in his/her first job out of college begin to grasp the picture of the profession.

    As someone else already aptly wrote: Sigh.

  • Mazarine Treyz

    Cheryl, hear hear!

    [QUOTE=Cheryl Kester, CFRE:7260]An aspect of this study that none of the comments have addressed so far is the not too suprising fact that when small nonprofits advertise for development directors, they get so few candidates or candidates they feel are unqualified. This clearly has a direct correlation to the figure that states that 38% of the DDs at smaller organizations have no experience securing gifts.

    A few things are going on there. First, it looks like most experienced fundraisers do not even look at what are essentially entry-level positions when they come open at smaller nonprofits. I mean, really, I can usually read a position description and quickly assess the huge list of unreasonable expectations of the position and read volumes into that.


    YES! I worked for a small music nonprofit that shall remain nameless, where the board’s idea of who to hire for a marketing position was someone who “played an instrument.”

    That’s right. That was their defining criteria.

    I begged and pleaded with them to do an actual job description and let me post it on craigslist at least, let alone and other places, but they dragged their heels for months and refused. Then they complained they couldn’t find anyone qualified. And I heard this from a fundraising friend who worked for another small music nonprofit, this exact same problem happened to her too.

    If nonprofits are complaining that they can’t find anyone qualified, I would agree with you, what are your criteria, seriously? Are they completely unrealistic or simply untenable for someone who actually knows what they are doing? A job description that could encompass 3 people’s jobs for 1/2 the pay of one full-time person? Because if you look out there, that is a lot of what is out there.

    So the experienced people don’t bother, because the salary’s insulting for the amount of work that it will be, and the inexperienced people, who don’t know any better, apply. And fail. And blame themselves, when they really shouldn’t. And they think, “i’m just not good at fundraising” and leave the nonprofit world, when they should be celebrating their failures and being encouraged to learn from them. THAT is how you learn. Instead they get the boot and the revolving door starts again.

    I agree, nonprofits should allocate a budget to development staff. And in my workshops about how to get fundraising jobs, I do tell people to ask this,

    “Is there a budget for professional development?” and

    “Who will I learn from, and how?”

    Because nonprofit fundraising IS a serious profession, and we need to think about how to EMPOWER nonprofit fundraisers to ask the hard questions, to really get in there and make sure everyone knows their boundaries and how fundraising is a slow game. I’m pleased that we now have this study to share with nonprofits to show them how they are setting up potential DDs to fail. This will be very useful for us all.


  • Robert D Taflinger, CAE

    Maybe a round table webinar or in-person gathering might be something to consider? AFP and ASAE, and perhaps some other donor development and fund raising associations should be at the table of discussion.

  • Sam Kirk MBA – NPO Consultant

    Topic for another day related to this discussion: Expecting CEO’s to “demonstrate fundraising skills”. As a senior level manager seeking a position in a nonprofit and considering an Executive Director position I almost always see the organization expecting the Exec. Director to demonstrate fundraising skills. While I understand the importance of the Exec. Director to support the Development function, the normal challenges facing an Exec. Director on a daily basis leaves precious little time to do so.

    So I’ve seen Exec. Directors who may have strong fundraising skills, but little management skill fail for that reason. My experience as a consultant for NPO’s is that what they really need to do to survive is to reduce expenditures which almost always means reducing salaries until such time as they are able to increase revenues.

  • Scott Phillips

    I found this article to be very interesting.

    As a person who spent decades in fundraising and has now left, I offer this perspective. It is mine and mine alone so you are free to take it with a grain of salt.

    In my career there was always one key in organizations with effective development functions: The CEO listened to the Development Director. Sounds simple, but unfortunately there were several instances in my career where that was not true and they often happened with CEOs with little to no fundraising experience themselves.

    Second, the successful organizations I worked in and fund raised for treated EVERY gift as important. Small, medium, large and mega. All equal in importance since they look at their organization from the donor’s point of view. If an organization begins to take gifts of any size ‘for granted’ then the development death spiral will begin.

    Third, as we all know fundraising is all about relationship building. So it takes time to develop a development function. Too many CEOs, Boards, and organizations focus on fundraising and NOT on development. When this happens, then the focus changes from one of building relationships to one of simply placing your development director or team ‘on the hot seat’. Goals in fundraising are very important, but they cannot ALL be short term, immediate goals.

    Finally, I will say that it is my belief that every organization needs to be structured such that every manager above the development director (be it a VP, SVP, CEO, or Board member) MUST carry a portfolio of donors. It can be small, but they need to be an active participant in the activity, not simply able to sit idly by and simply observe fundraising in their organization.

    As I said …. FWIW ….


  • Scott Phillips


    Yes I have seen this combo work very well, indeed!

    As a matter of personal opinion I think it is crucial to organizations to have these two functions attached at the heart.

    All too often I see NGOs where the fundraising folks speak one ‘language’ and marketing/communications uses different language. This can be very damaging to fundraising.

  • Scott Phillips

    Interesting point, John.

    I tried this, but found two issues with it.

    First, my schedule as a fundraiser with its travel, etc. prevented me from being accessible for another nonprofit on a regular basis.

    Also as a fundraiser I was put into a very challenging position when I was working to raise money for one organization and being asked to help raise funds for another.

    I am sure many can do this. I found it to be too challenging

  • Ari

    I’m hearing alot from the DOD’s side, but here’s my issue/question from the other side of the aisle: Many DODs want to come in with a huge guaranteed salary (anywhere from 100-250K guaranteed), but will guarantee NOTHING in return. Then they can claim they need a year or three to get up and running, make relationships, etc.

    So can someone please explain to me how the economics of this are supposed to work? I’m asking earnestly, I have been trying to solve this puzzle for some time: as a small non-profit, how do we get someone on board to help us fundraise when they want up front money that we don’t have, without guaranteeing they will raise it back in short order?!?

  • John Godfrey

    Ari, I understand your frustration. Let me ask you this though. Are you or any of your other executives asked to guarantee results? No, I thought not. One reason why is that there are too many variables outside any individual executive’s control for guaranteed results to be a rational basis for performance evaluation let alone remuneration.

    The tone of many of the comments above, many from DODs, make me wonder whether there aren’t a number of experienced, committed and (dare I use the overused?) passionate fundraisers who would be prepared to be negotiable on their market rate provided they knew they were taking on a role that involved working with a CEO and board committed and knowledgeable about fundraising and prepared to offer the support required for success?

  • Mazarine Treyz

    Dear Cheryl,

    This short order thinking is the problem.

    You can’t raise the money in short order. As other commenters have mentioned, fundraising is about relationships. Kim Klein says, “I don’t want a gift, I want a giver!”

    So start with someone 1/4 time, or 1/2 time, if that is all you can afford. That will be better than nothing.

    But with that person, there needs to be an understanding at the board and volunteer level that this person will help them get better at fundraising, and that is what everyone is responsible for.

    There is no guarantee in fundraising because usually small nonprofits have no database, no communications calendar, no history of cultivating donors or engaging them to be long term, monthly or major donors.

    So the issue becomes how much can the new development person agitate against the prevailing tide? As one person? Holding out against inertia on the part of the board or disorganized giving records scattered in garbage bags?

    You see, this is why it takes a year to get up and running. Because they have to build a development system from scratch. They are not trying to weasel out from having to raise money. It takes time to build systems and build social capital with your donors by communicating consistently. Most likely this hasn’t been done either.

    Kim Klein says, “Surgeons get paid whether or not they save someone’s life.”

    Someone who is fundraising should get paid as they build the systems to help you succeed long term, even if it doesn’t get you money in the short term.

    Fundraising is a long game. And if you haven’t had a development person for over 6 months, and hire and fire development people every 9 to 18 months, there’s a lot to be overcome.

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  • Geoff Morris

    When running small non-profits, at least 50% of my time was spent on fundraising. Now that I consult on fundraising, at least 50% of my time is spent on managing/mentoring the CEO and Board!

  • Jack

    Marla – as a Development and Communications Director, I would affirm that these two roles must ABSOLUTELY be coordinated with one point person responsible for making sure that key messages are reaffirming development messaging and goals.

    However if organizations are expecting to have one individual take on the responsibilities of multiple positions, they are setting themselves up, as well as their communications or development goals, for failure.

    One person, with oversight of qualified development and communications staff, makes sense.

    One person who’s job description requires them to be the lone individual to address public relations, community relations, grant writing, RFP responses, foundation submissions, major giving, annual appeals, special events, website content, social media, capital campaigns, and marketing etc, – i.e. jobs that would keep a small handful of people busy – should expect to be disappointed in the results at the very least.

    Coordination is needed, but that’s far more than one person can be expected to do well unless they’re committed to working 80 hours a week for low pay in smaller organizations.

    That seems to be the problem that many organizations experience. They make Development and Communications a low priority with low salaries – and then exacerbate it by paying a low salary.

    Anyone good enough to actually take on all those roles and do even a halfway decent job (given the fact that so many roles dilute one’s ability to do any of them exceptionally well) can expect to lose that person to a higher paying position with a better organization. They’ll then start again from scratch, losing the institutional knowledge of the years of work by the predecessor, while spending years developing a new person, eventually losing them too.

    This keeps some organizations perpetually behind the 8 ball with unmet goals and no retention in the position, wasting dollars and even decades of opportunity. Meanwhile larger organizations are more than happy to recruit from the “minor leagues” who refuse to appropriately budget for these important positions.

    Funding/staffing those positions appropriately often comes down to just $50,000 – $150,000 in positions and salaries – an amount any good Communications and Development team should be able to recoup and then some. It’s a matter of being pennywise and pound foolish.

    But ultimately, yes, the idea of having Development and Communications coordinated is an idea that makes great sense – most organizations just take a good idea and make it bad, using it as an excuse to have one person do twice as much work.

  • Robynn James

    I don’t know anyone in the field of fundraising who has not been fired, or fled a job in anticipation of being fired. When conditions for success are elusive or non-existent, when a professional’s skills and talents are not valued or appreciated, when the very tasks needed to bring about success are treated as a nuisance by executives and board members, it’s no wonder so many people leave our profession bitterly disillusioned.

    As a consultant who works with small and medium-sized nonprofits, I feel the pain on both ends. More often than not, these organizations are led by, or leadership is overshadowed by, a charismatic founder who is devoted to his/her mission, and assumes that everyone else will naturally adopt his/her level of enthusiasm. How could you NOT want to support our work saving ____ from ____ and providing ____ to ____? Since founders have often spent years (even decades) immersed in the accolades of their acolytes, reading their own PR, and receiving recognition in various forms for the heroic nature of what they seek to do, they are convinced that even a trained monkey should be able to bring in the necessary thousands, and sometimes, millions, of dollars needed to support them in their work. And since the mission of the organization is necessarily unrelated to fundraising (and, in fact, if fundraising is given a high priority in a small organization donors often look askance and the integrity of the organization itself can become suspect), and since organizations without fundraising counsel often do not have the first clue as to what systems are necessary to put in place before hiring a development director, the expectations are predictably unrealistic. And the fact that ratings organizations treat fundraising expenses as though they were frivolous and extravagant wastes of money spent to pester, or worse, coerce donors with luxuries like printed materials and fundraising events, simply reinforces and validates those executives and board members who are already inclined to shun fundraising activities and staff.

    I have actually had large organizations hire me only to find, upon being shown to my work area, that what they called a donor database was actually a list of party invitations from an event held over a decade before. And while some of the names were well-known and even celebrities, they could not even be called suspects, much less prospects, for the organization’s medically-related mission.

    But the issues are two-sided: We have, for too long, been allowed to flounder about as a pseudo-profession. If organizations are having trouble finding experienced and qualified development directors, it may be because the average tenure in our profession is less than three years. And those of us who have invested in our skills and talents, taking degree programs, earning certifications like CFRE or ACFRE, and seeking CEU’s to enhance our skills, will rightly expect to receive compensation that reflects our commitment. However, organizations like to hire on the cheap, and so the development director who is hired is often a newbie willing to give development a try, not knowing what is needed. And so the cycle perpetuates itself.

  • Aria Edry

    Robynn, Very well said….I couldn’t have said it better.

  • cg

    I can not agree with this comment more. Nothing kills fundraising efforts more than dysfunctional programs and operating practices. It is hard to make a case statement when an organization doesn’t have strong program designs and budget processes. Even worse, it become twice as hard to show value on a gift when staff are not performing adequately. DD turn over has a lot to do with scapegoating. The issue has become exaggerated as non-profits are being force to show accountability to donors. Yet the problem is being overlooked because AFP likes to narrow the conversation to only discuss individual donors and annual appeals. God! If only I could run a development office where all I had to do was plan and execute a large mailing with a few well placed public relations efforts and events. That would be cake. Unfortunately, outside of major hospitals and colleges most non-profits DD don’t get this easy of a ride. Instead, we must manage annual appeals and individual donors, along side negotiating complex contract agreements from government offices and institutions, where program performance and external partnerships become critical to success. If you were an ED that could not raise money because your programs were underperforming, would you tell the board the truth or pick an easy target and blame the DD.