Losing a development officer can have serious implications on a nonprofit’s mission. And finding the right replacement is a process that is rarely done well. There are many opinions on what the ideal characteristics are for a good development officer. Unfortunately, most of them miss the mark and bring little value to the search and hiring process. Here is another take on how to find and keep a Development RockStar and help bring an end to the revolving door of the development office.
There are some in our industry who believe they are protecting the development profession by denying the truth of the following statistic: the average tenure in the development field is only 18-24 months. When you consider what is entrusted to development professionals and the hassle involved with rehiring, it is a wonder we don’t give that alarming statistic more time and attention. The reasons for high turnover are numerous and warrant another article of its own. The simple answer is that most nonprofits spend too much time and effort looking for someone who looks qualified on paper, but not enough time finding people with the right innate skills.
The idea that a development officer should have all of the “technical know-how” before being hired is a flawed perspective. Unless you are in the market for a special events coordinator, the traits you are looking for in a “RockStar Development Officer” are not learned or academic. Rather, they are God-given.
The development profession is not brain surgery. And while it sounds cliché to say it, development really is about relationships. So consider the following characteristics as you seek to expand or replace members of your development team:
A kind face – I am not talking about beauty here, but rather a quality that we all recognize when we see it. When someone appears to be kind, we are far more open to engaging him or her in conversation, or taking the next step in starting a relationship. This is the first impression, and it really does make a difference in how effectively someone is able to gain access to your donors.
A pleasant demeanor – In other words, someone who actually is Is he or she easy to engage in a conversation? If someone is awkward or clumsy with casual conversation with you, then it is likely a donor will have the same experience. Conversation is foundational to building a relationship.
Assertiveness – Not aggressiveness, but a pleasant assertiveness. This is critical because your Development Officer must be capable of guiding and influencing the relationships he/she builds. To be clear, I am not referring to a comfort with asking for large amounts of money from a donor. In fact, if someone didn’t express some anxiety with “asking,” then that might count against him or her. It is normal to feel anxiety with challenging donors to move out of their comfort zones. The art of asking is something that can and should be taught within the culture of your mission.
Sold on your mission – One of the most common reasons for high turnover in the development world is a lack of loyalty to a mission. You must find someone who will represent your mission with passion and conviction. For a private school, I would strongly consider an alumnus or parent of an alumnus for this reason. If you are a social service mission, then consider reviewing your donor base or volunteer force for serious candidates. While your intent should always be to offer a competitive salary, you want to hire someone who is not only looking for money, but also has a true desire to further your mission.
Communication skills – The one academic characteristic that I believe is vital. Any serious candidate must have excellent written and verbal communication skills. I would even suggest building a writing test into the interview process to ensure your prospective hire can write a good letter.
So there you have it: my recipe for success. Find the person with the qualities you can’t teach. All the other skills can and should be taught in the context of your tradition and culture.
There are many quality sources for the academic aspects of the job, including books, workshops, conferences, and development consultants who serve as mentors. Some nonprofits actually utilize a development consultant to conduct the search, help with the hire, and then train the new Development Officer. If this is your path, make sure the consultant accurately represents your culture and values to avoid short tenure.
With some simple adjustments to your ideal profile, you, too, can avoid the pain and hassle associated with hiring a new Development Officer every 18 months – because Development RockStars are not hired; they are grown with education and care.read more
It’s always right around this time of year when I fail to remember to do some really important things. Perhaps, most importantly, setting aside time in the coming months to do some serious strategic planning for the year ahead. I know that many of you forget this, too.
Let me acknowledge here that not all nonprofit organizations operate on the same fiscal year. But most schools, and many other types of nonprofits, share the same fiscal year of July 1 through June 30. This article is meant for you. If your organization has a different fiscal year, simply adjust my timeline to fit yours.
So, why worry now about next year’s fundraising plan when we still have so much to do in order to achieve this year’s budget? The answer is simple – because planning never gets the priority or attention that it deserves. Time gets away from us quickly as we sail through the late winter and early spring. There are a large number of events conducted in this timeframe that consume our time, effort and energy. We have to navigate Spring Break and Easter. Next thing we know, it is early June, and we are only a few weeks away from starting over.
So, my message this month is short and sweet:
Today – set aside time on your calendar in April to create your plan for next year
Tomorrow – send out meeting requests to those whom you want to be part of the planning process (staff members, development committee members, etc.)
Later this week – take 15 minutes to draft your ideal planning agenda for the few days you will focus on this task
Invite an outside source (mentor, colleague, or consultant) to join the planning process.
Doing these tasks now will free you from worrying about them for the next four months. You may just impress your boss as well. But most importantly, you will find that the planning process yields great results.
The goal of every nonprofit is to grow the mission. Growing the mission requires growth in the budget. Growth in the budget requires more operational fundraising from the development office. Significant growth in operational funding requires sound strategic planning. Sound strategic planning results from giving it attention and priority. Take the four easy steps above and you won’t be sorry later this year.read more
This is a seemingly innocent question that elicits responses all over the charts. Nearly every nonprofit uses the term ‘major gift’ and has a quick definition of its meaning, but no two definitions are the same.
The surface-level definition of a major gift in most nonprofits is a specific size gift. A large nonprofit might define a major gift as $25,000 or more from a single source within a single fiscal year. A smaller nonprofit may define a major gift as $1,000 (and sometimes less), depending on the size and maturity of the donor base.
To many nonprofit boards, a major-gifts effort is simply about asking a segment of the donor base to consider a larger gift. Some slightly more creative boards, still believing the process is transactional, might include giving societies to recognize these larger donors. “Donors will just give more because we are asking and we need it, right?” My personal favorite oxymoron is the term ‘major donor marketing,’ implying that major gifts are the result of this impersonal promotion strategy.
Now that I have put myself out there and taken a bit of an arrogant and self-righteous stance on major-gifts fundraising, let me walk it back a little. I recognize that all nonprofits want to have donors who give large gifts annually in support of their noble missions. Development professionals and board members are continually thinking of new ideas that will produce such donors. It stands to reason that any approach utilized must, at some point, involve deliberately asking prospective donors to consider larger gifts. I agree with and support this train of thought. But let’s dig a little deeper into what major-gifts fundraising should truly be about.
The most common misunderstanding of major-gifts fundraising is that it’s about simply asking for larger gifts from prospective donors who have a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong, larger gifts are clearly an objective of major-gifts fundraising and often the result, but large gifts cannot be our entire focus. Defining major-gifts fundraising as securing large gifts is like defining dating as getting married. Yes, people often date to find the right spouse and, ultimately, get married, but if the focus of every date is to propose marriage, most first dates will not yield a second date.
What you invest in something is almost always proportionate to what you get out of it. This life rule is true for most anything worthwhile. As kids, most of us wanted a quick fix to our challenges and rarely wanted to put in all of the hours practicing the piano (or the like) that would produce the best result. We know in our personal lives today that our most precious relationships (God, family and friends) require great effort to build and maintain.
This rule applies as much to fundraising as it does to any other aspect of our lives. There is no quick fix if we are to experience the success of engaging donors in support of the mission we represent. Although it sounds cliché to say it, development truly is about relationships. Each donor connects with your mission in a unique way.
Our goal as development professionals is to create a path for each donor to grow in relationship with the mission and, ultimately, to enrich that donor’s life in some meaningful way.
One symptom of a deep and healthy donor relationship is a large gift. Contrary to popular belief, large gifts are not simply given for the asking – at least if the gift is to be sustained. Large gifts represent investment from a donor into a mission with an expectation of some return. The return might be seeing the direct impact of his/her giving, or any other result that brings the donor satisfaction and joy.
If we believe that the large gift was given just because we asked, then we are destined to be disappointed when the donor chooses to direct his/her giving to another mission in the future.
The bottom line: major-gifts fundraising should really be called relationship-based fundraising, because that is the most fundamental definition. If large donors are not engaged in some reciprocal and meaningful relationship with the nonprofit’s mission and its ambassador, then the funding will likely be short lived. Sustainable major gifts fundraising requires a strategy and a deliberate effort to develop, deepen and maintain relationships.
The next time you are asked the question: “what is a major gift?,” consider the following answer: “A major gift in our organization is one that represents a meaningful and personal commitment from a donor who is in relationship with both our mission and with us.” If this becomes the focus of your efforts, the size of the gifts will not only grow, but also be sustainable.read more
All too often, the term “major gifts fundraising” is misused, misrepresented, and misunderstood. Nearly every nonprofit professes to do some version of major gifts fundraising, and all consulting firms claim to be major gift experts. However, I believe that few nonprofit organizations have a true major gifts program and even fewer consulting firms grasp the philosophy behind a quality relationship-based funding strategy. In fact, major gifts fundraising often becomes a game of confusing oranges for apples.
We all know that painting an orange red doesn’t really change it into an apple. At first glance, we might think we see an apple, but we quickly realize the difference. Our ability to discern an apple-colored orange from a real apple comes from our knowledge of how a real apple looks, feels, smells and tastes. However, if we did not possess that knowledge, it would be more challenging to perceive the difference.
So what does that have to do with major gifts fundraising?
First, it’s important to agree on a definition of major gift fundraising. It is not simply about asking people for more money, although that is the essence of how it is commonly defined (and constitutes the metaphorical red paint on the orange). Major gifts, or transformational gifts, the term I will usefor the remainder of this article to make a distinction, must represent a philosophy and approach that permeates all aspects of a nonprofit organization.
Transformational giving is the result of creating a unique experience for a single donor, crafted around his or her passions and interests, and built on a solid and trusting relationship nurtured over time. The term “transformational” describes the effect on every part of the relationship and decision-making process – nonprofit leaders, mission and donor.
It is challenging, indeed, for most nonprofit leaders to discern the difference between something called “major gifts fundraising” and what constitutes a true quality, relationship-based, transformational gift strategy. Most have not experienced or witnessed such an approach.
Transformational giving represents the greatest growth potential for every nonprofit, regardless of size and type – no exceptions. From the largest universities to smallest social service agencies, there is always untapped capacity in giving waiting to be realized. Whether you are a part-time development director or part of a 50-member development staff, there is potential for you to reach a fundraising level far beyond your current one.
However, in order for transformational giving to happen, the nonprofit must be willing to reframe the way it thinks about relational fundraising. It cannot come as a result of simply getting the development director some training; he or she must also have the support, participation and complete buy-in of senior staff, the board, communications team, and finance department. If not, the change will be superficial – like painting an orange red.
Let’s consider another analogy: most of us attempt to lose a few pounds at one time or another. We buy diet books or try fad diets or weight loss systems. The result – we lose a few pounds, but find that it is difficult to maintain the weight loss. That is because we rarely allow our lifestyle to be changed. We go back to eating, exercising and living the way we always have, and then are disappointed that the weight loss was temporary.
This is a perfect analogy for the challenges a development office faces as it attempts to build a major or transformational gifts program. Permanent change in a development philosophy is as difficult to achieve as permanent weight loss – but it is possible. Here is some advice as you plan the year ahead and seek to implement true transformational gifts fundraising:
Make sure you have buy-in and support from your boss
Partner with a board member or two to ensure the entire organization understands the philosophy and vision of the strategy
Beware of the consultants who, like diet books and fads, bring only superficial change
Find a consultant who is a trusted advisor and who will function more like a personal trainer to guide, support, and help you through all aspects of institutional change
You represent a mission that wants to grow and requires funding to do so. Believe that there is enormous potential within your existing donor base that can be realized with a quality, transformational gift strategy. Getting the right guidance and support will help you to avoid the frustration of misfires and temporary gain.read more