Advancement Associates specializes in serving church-related, nonprofit human service organizations. While many of these organizations are small, their missions are vitally important to the communities and constituents they serve. Another attribute held in common: they highly depend on the charitable gifts of their stakeholders.
With our clients in mind, then, we came across some important research that caught our attention: Bell, Jeanne and Marla Cornelius, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising (San Francisco, CA: CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, 2013).
To highlight the key findings of the study, conducted among more than 2,700 executive directors and development directors, we’ve pasted in some summary statements found in the report.
UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising
Many (nonprofit organizations) are working on the edge of a knife. Relying on voluntarily provided support, they struggle year in and year out to keep the money coming in and to identify new, more sustainable sources of funding. Many can’t find the right people to build and grow their development operations, and most feel that their fundraising results fall short of what they need to realize their aspirations.
Revolving Door: Instability in the Development Director Role
Our data suggest a high level of instability and uncertainty in the development director position in nonprofit organizations. Among the concerns: high turnover, long vacancies, performance problems, and the fact that large numbers of development directors are not committed to careers in fundraising. Most concerning is the combination of long-time vacant positions–especially among smaller organizations–and high rates of anticipated departure among current development directors.
Help Wanted: An Inadequate and Uneven Talent Pool
Our data confirm that the supply of qualified development directors is smaller than the demand for them across the nonprofit sector. Executives report a lack of credible candidates for open positions, and many are dissatisfied with the performance and the skills of their current development directors. In addition, smaller nonprofits are finding they can’t compete for experienced fundraising talent with larger organizations that offer considerably higher salaries.
It’s About More Than One Person: Lacking the Conditions for Fundraising Success
Development experts have long cautioned that having a skilled development director is not enough. Beyond creating a development director position and hiring someone who is qualified for the job, organizations and their leaders need to build the capacity, the systems, and the culture to support fundraising success. Among the signs that an organization is up to the task:
• It invests in its fundraising capacity and in the technologies and other fund development systems it needs;
• The staff, the executive director, and the board are deeply engaged in fundraising as ambassadors and in many cases as solicitors;
• Fund development and philanthropy are understood and valued across the organization; and
• The development director is viewed as a key leader and partner in the organization and is integrally involved in organizational planning and strategy.
All of these are widely accepted indicators that an organization is doing what’s needed, and yet our survey results indicate that many nonprofits haven’t created the conditions for fundraising success.
Defining a “Culture of Philanthropy”
• 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.
Calls to Action
1. Embrace fund development
2. Elevate the field of fundraising
3. Strengthen and diversity the talent pool
4. Train boards differently
5. Apply the transition management framework to the development director position
6. Invest strategically in grantee fundraising capacity
7. Leverage technological innovation
8. Set realistic goals for development
9. Share accountability for fundraising results
10. Exercise fundraising leadership
We encourage readers to read the entire report, review the supporting data and consider the accompanying recommendations, which is available at www.compasspoint.org (under Research & Publications). Is your organization “stuck in a vicious cycle?”