Having heard donors refer to it as the “development director shuffle,” it is widely known that the development director position is a revolving door for nonprofit organizations. A recent national study indicates more than 50% of development directors will leave their current job in two years or less. The study suggests the “shuffle” is not necessarily from an entire profession of flaky professionals, rather, nonprofits minimize bigger problems and issues that in turn sets the development professional up to fail. After years of experience and observation, here are a few ways nonprofits are scaring away their development directors.

1. Excluding them from strategic planning

One sure way to lose the development director is to exclude them from the strategic planning process.

All too often executive directors simply “tell” the development director the annual fundraising goal without much context or information behind it. Skilled development directors understand donors give to charities that know where they headed and that are quantifiably making a difference in addressing community needs. Without a full understanding of nonprofit initiatives, development directors are left no choice but to craft a weak case for support and then must become an expert tap dancer as they field donor questions (this choice often results in losing them to #2 Play the Blame Game).

2. Play the Blame Game

The board and executive director are responsible for the financial health and well-being of the organization. The executive director is the chief fundraiser who works hand in hand with the development team who coordinates the implementation of fundraising plans. Fundraising goals simply cannot be met if the board and executive director:

  • fail to properly nurture a culture of philanthropy
  • approve fundraising goals that greatly exceed social capital
  • don’t spend time developing strategic plans for operations and fund development
  • lack clarity on key messages in the case for support

Development directors are often expected to maneuver to success through these treacherous and lacking environments and, while they can influence these factors, control remains with the board of directors and executive director. Tragically, when fundraising goals go unmet, blame is often directed at the overworked, underpaid and underdeveloped development director. They are played as the scapegoat to absolve the organization from its disengaged board members and prideful executive who are often afraid to admit lack of competence in best practice fundraising.

Experiencing the snarl and gnash of teeth from a top leader is enough to scare any professional. Perhaps the most frightful part of this scenario is to realize how often the blame game is played.

3. Fail to support professional development 

Fundraising is a team sport and nonprofits often direct few if any resources to training.  Frightfully, I was in a management role for two years without ever being extended training to support the transition. I am most definitely not alone; the absence of training happens more often than you might think and does so for two reasons.

  1.  Nonprofit board members and executives are simply afraid to admit their discomfort and fear of fundraising which inhibits them from asking for training and support in the area. See my fundraising hero Gail Perry’s insightful Myths and Realities of Board Members and Fundraising
  2.  Nonprofits have been operating in a contentious environment full of false beliefs that forces them to limit overhead costs (see The Overhead Myth). Since training and development is considered overhead many nonprofits direct few, if any, resources to it.

Nonprofit are addressing critical issues in our communities and the solutions are dependent on how well the organization can gather resources. Therefore, it is a worthwhile endeavor to support professional development to increase knowledge in fundraising at all levels of the organization. In turn this effort will support a growing culture of philanthropy which is what is needed to support longer tenures for development directors.

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