Development Director Turnover: A serious problem for our profession?

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It’s something we hear every day.  Another development professional moving from one nonprofit to the other in our community.  The average tenure for a development professional in any particular position is 18 months.  Knowing that relationship building and trust are the keys to fundraising success, why don’t we stay in our positions longer?  A recent study by CompassPoint, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, attempts to study this problem and offer possible solutions.  We recommend downloading and studying this report: Click Here for free download.

The study suggests 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.

The data also confirms 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.

So what’s the problem?  The study is clear in concluding that it’s about more than one person.  Rather, the problem is often organizations that lack the conditions for fundraising success.  buy Modafinil online 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.

1. It invests in its fundraising capacity and in the technologies and other fund development systems it needs;

2. The staff, the executive director, and the board are deeply engaged in fundraising as ambassadors and in many cases as solicitors;

3. Fund development and philanthropy are understood and valued across the organization;

4. 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 the survey results indicate that many nonprofits haven’t created the conditions for fundraising success.

Recommendations: The study’s authors point to several key factors that may contribute to a solution to this problem, including:

1. Create a culture of philanthropy in the organization, a true mental shift that embraces fund development and philanthropy as central to the organization’s mission.

2. Elevate the field of philanthropy by recognizing fundraising as a profession.

3. Strengthen and diversify the talent pool by educating and mentoring the next generation of fundraising professionals.

4. Train boards to see fund development capacity building as an organizational priority.

5. Focus on succession planning for Development Directors in much the same way we have embraced the concept for Executive Directors.

6. Convince funders to embrace investing in fund development capacity building.

7. Set realistic fund development and budgetary goals and involve the Development Director in the budgeting process.

8. Share accountability for fundraising results between the Development Director, Executive Director, Board of Directors, and others in the organization.  The Development Director can’t do it alone.

9. Development Directors should step up their leadership and drive change within their organizations.
If you would like to discuss this issue further, be sure to attend the October meeting of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Southern Arizona Chapter.  Friday, October 11, 2013, 7:30AM at the Doubletree Hotel in Tucson.  Pat Bjorhovde will be presenting the study and leading a discussion about its implications.  Visit the AFP website to learn more.

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