Is it Development or Fundraising?

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By: David H. King,
President & CEO


We have long believed that the words “development” and “fundraising” are not synonyms.  Development, in our vocabulary, is a process of “developing” relationships between people and an organization.  This relationship building focuses on finding common ground between the interests of people and the mission and goals of the organization.  Fundraising, on the other hand, is really a process of asking people for money.  Related? Yes.  Interconnected? Yes.  Synonyms? No.

Along these lines, we have long advocated that our clients NOT make their development programs completely staff dependent.  More specifically, we have advocated that every major donor have a relationship with at least two people in the organization and that, if at all possible, at least one of those relationships be with a Board member or other volunteer.

It seems that advice is becoming more and more relevant as we see serious instability in the ranks of development officers. I recently read that that average tenure for a development officer with an institution has dropped to 18 months.  That is not a lot of time to do good “development” work.

But that may not be the worst of it.  A recent survey conducted by Compass Point and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund (no relation to our Haas) of 2,700 nonprofit leaders found the following disturbing statistics:

  • 50% of development officers plan to leave their current job in less than 2 years.
  • 40% of development officers plan to completely leave the field of development.
  • 46% of organizations say that it took them 6 months or more to fill their vacant development director position.
  • 53% of Executive Directors say they could not find enough candidates with the right skills and experience for their vacant development position.
  • 24% of Development Directors have little or no experience in development prior to being hired.

But, there is also another piece to this puzzle.  According to the same survey:

Only 30% of Executive Directors are satisfied with the performance of their chief development officer.

Clearly, turnover is and will continue to be a challenge and having Board members and other volunteers, who tend to turn over much less frequently, involved can help maintain stable relationships and consistency with donors.

The professionalization of our field is a very good thing and something we have long supported and advocated.  But let us not forget that developing relationships is an organization-wide responsibility and should not be left to professional staff alone.  As these statistics indicate, the development officer marketplace is very volatile right now and every organization should be working a plan to have multiple donor relationships so that turnover in staff does not mean starting over with the relationship.