The Mikuska Group  

UnderDeveloped: Get out of the vicious cycle

Many organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle when it comes to their fundraising, says an important report released in January, 2013 by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund (San Francisco, CA).

UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising reveals a number of concerns about expectations of fundraising operations:

  • too often, non-profits base everything on one person, the development director, without understanding what supports should be in place
  • there is a high level of instability in the development director role, with high turnover, long vacancies, performance problems and large numbers who are not committed to careers in development
  • the talent pool is inadequate and smaller organizations feel they can’t compete for experienced fundraising talent with larger organizations that offer much higher salaries
  • organizations lack the conditions for fundraising success i.e. no fundraising plans, no database, little to no board involvement, CEOs/executive directors who lack development skills or hate asking for gifts, lack of good relationship between the development director and the executive director

In the study, the authors note many non-profits don’t have a structure that supports fundraising success and that they don’t have a culture of philanthropy. Large organizations, while having larger development departments, often said they had no culture of philanthropy because their development function is more compartmentalized.

Further, there is a disconnect between executive directors and development directors about their organization’s culture of philanthropy. For example, “34% of executives strongly agreed that there is an understanding in their organizations that fund development has a documented body of knowledge, code of ethics, certification, research, and continuing education; the comparable figure for development directors was 18%.”

Calls to action

What I like about this report is that while the results are from US respondents, they mirror what is happening in Canada. And while that’s not necessarily good news, it does give organizations something to work with. The authors put forward ten calls to action, meant to move “away from an approach that is passive, apologetic and siloed in nature, to an integrative approach that deeply values donors and constituents and puts them right in the center of our organizations and movements.”

Embrace Fund Development – A Mental Model Shift Across the Sector – A call for leaders to embrace fundraising as a central and valuable part of their work.

Elevate the Field of Fundraising – Leaders need to join together to promote fundraising as a rewarding career and the development director role as integral to positive change in communities.

Strengthen and Diversify the Talent Pool – Target efforts to get a healthy and diverse pipeline of fundraising professionals, and focus on developing the next generation of development directors.

Train Boards Differently – Address what it takes to build and sustain a culture of philanthropy including the partnership among the board, executive director and development director.

Apply the Transition Management Framework to the Development Director Position – Include assessments of fundraising strategy and capacity when conducting searches for development directors.

Invest Strategically in Grantee Fundraising Capacity – A call for funders to invest in grantees’ leadership and organizational capacity, and provide support for building skills, developing systems and creating cultural change for fundraising success.

Leverage Technological Innovation – Embrace Creativity – Embrace social media as a way of multiple staff and board to have continuous dialogue with donors; potential to draw in new generation of activists to the development role.

Set Realistic Goals for Development – Revise expectations to include development and maintenance of the development department, cultivation and stewardship of relationships, staff and board relationship-building, and contribution to the vision, strategy and overall leadership of the organization.

Share Accountability for Fundraising Results – Include fund development goal-setting and evaluation as part of the board and all staff annual work planning.

Exercise Fundraising Leadership – A call for development directors to embrace the challenges in the report and drive the change required in their organizations. A call to executive directors to commit to inspiring their boards and staff around a culture of philanthropy.

I, too, urge non-profit and development leaders to read the report and have serious discussions about how they can change their culture to one that will ensure fundraising – and by extension organizational – success. It’s worth the conversation.

Julie Mikuska


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