A study by Compass Point and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund took a studied look, for the first time, at the topic of why Directors of Development (DoD) leave and why some organizations have lengthy periods of vacancy in these key positions. The report, Under Developed: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, describes three main challenges:
1) Organizations often link their “dreams of fundraising” to one person. Development Positions are open for what was reported as 6 months or more. Half the DoDs surveyed reported plans to leave in two years or less. 40% of DoDs are not committed to staying in careers in Development.
2) Organizations are not finding enough skilled candidates for DoD jobs. More than half of the executives reported that recent searches did not produce enough candidates with the right mix of skills and experience One in four organizations reported they fired their previous DoD. One in four executive directors admitted to having little knowledge of fundraising.
3) Beyond hiring the right person, the organization needs to build capacity, systems and culture to support fundraising success. Many nonprofits are not doing this.
So why are Development Directors leaving? Unrealistic expectations that fundraising is one person’s responsibility and not the charge of an entire organization. Lack of investment in the structures and systems that lead to a fundraising culture. Inexperience at the executive director level in the area of fundraising can lead to unrealistic expectations, lack of support and clear workplace dissatisfaction.
What to do…
1) Make realistic plans – Fundraising result changes do not happen over night. Plan to build and grow for the long-term. This includes hiring the right person for the job. No one candidate is perfect, but many can be all an organization needs and more– with the right opportunities, support and training.
2) Develop an organizational fundraising culture. Fundraising is not the exclusive responsibility of the “development professional”. Boards, executive directors and staff all play a vital role in the process.
3) Celebrate the fundraising accomplishments within your organization, and provide opportunities for growth.
By taking these steps, perhaps we can stem the tide of workplace defections and keep good development officers in the field, professional satisfied, and retain them at organizations in desperate need for fundraising leadership.