Thu, January 17 2013

Half of fundraisers want to quit - and a quarter of bosses said they fired their last fundraiser

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

The headline of this post is the gist of a depressing new report from CompassPoint and the Haas, Jr. Fund: UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising. Based on a national survey of more than 2,500 development directors and executive directors, the study documents heavy turnover and vacancies in development director positions, a lack of basic fundraising systems, and key board and staff leaders who aren’t sufficiently focused on raising money.  On top of that, one in four nonprofit leaders reported that their previous development director was fired.

Sorry to hit you with that news this morning.  I hope it doesn’t describe your situation!

Here are the key findings - quoted from the study team.

1.  Organizations are struggling with high turnover and long vacancies in the development director post.

• Executive directors at organizations where the development director position was vacant said the posts had been open for an average of 6 months. Almost half (46%) reported vacancies even longer than that.
• Half of development directors said they expect to leave their current jobs in two years or less; and the rate was even higher for smaller organizations.
• Forty percent of development directors aren’t committed to careers in development.

2. Organizations aren’t finding enough qualified candidates for development director jobs. Executives also report performance problems and a lack of basic fundraising skills among key development staff. 

• Asked about the last time they tried to hire a new development director, more than half of executives (53%) said the search produced an insufficient number of candidates with the right mix of skills and experience.
• Nearly one in three executives are lukewarm about, or dissatisfied with, the performance of their current development directors.
• One in four executive directors (24%) said their development directors have no experience or are novice at “current and prospective donor research.” Among the smallest nonprofits, the number was 32%.

3. 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. The findings indicate that many nonprofits aren’t doing this.

• Almost one in four nonprofits (23%)—and 31% of organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million—have no fundraising plan in place. In addition, 21% of organizations overall—and 32% of organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million— have no fundraising database.
• Three out of four executive directors (75%)—and 82% of executives among organizations with operating budgets of under $1 million—say that board members are not doing enough to support fundraising.
• Twenty-six percent of executives identified themselves as having no competency or being a novice at fundraising. Further, among executives who said that asking for contributions was one of their main duties, 18% said they dislike it.
• Just 41% of development directors said the partnership between them and their executives on fund development work is strong, compared with 53% of executive directors.
• A majority of development directors reported only little or moderate influence on key activities such as getting other staff involved in fundraising or developing organizational budgets.
• Significant numbers of development directors questioned the effectiveness of their organizations’ fundraising efforts.

OK. Enough of the problem.  What the heck do we do about this?  Please weigh in.  In the meantime, the study team recommends that we:

1. Embrace the importance fundraising across organizations

2. Elevate the field of fundraising - As explained by Kim Klein, “Money is one of the great taboos in our culture. We are taught not to think about it or ask about it… As with the subjects of sex, death, mental illness, religion, politics, and other taboos, people say little about their experiences with money. With people so carefully taught that it is rude to talk about money, it’s certainly not an easy task to ask for it.”

3. Strengthen the talent pool

4. Train boards differently

5. Treat fundraisers like the key staff they are with appropriate transition planning

6. Invest in building grantee fundraising capacity

7. Do more with technology and the innovation it allows

8. Set realistic fundraising goals

9. Share accountability for those goals

10. Fundraisers and executive directors should both show greater leadership

Someone who is trying to help re-imagine fundraising is Jennifer McCrea.  She even teaches a course on this at Harvard. I recommend you check out her blog, along with this report, for more ideas.

What do you think can be done?

  • Comment: (13)   


Data is depressing, but correct.  We represent that with having most funding from grants won in competition because we do well at what we do.

The tools to get the technology in place, capturing the moments we, and others like us, to change the world is challenging.

With 3,000 folks donating $50 we can build a new home (debt free) for a disabled vet and their family!  We have seven lots ready, medical providers on board, yet how to get this in fron of folks is the challenge.

Thanks for all you do to assist with our effort to make a difference!


Posted by Thomas Bishop  on  01/17  at  09:52 AM

I know this isn’t for everyone (I do freelance on the side- I have a FT job and can make my bills without worry- not everyone is in that situation), but when I want a position I offer to do the first month on a volunteer basis. I ask for a meeting to lay out what I can do for the organization- social media, letter campaigns for the old school donor who want the personal touch, mobile apps/ an electronic campaign for the new generation, event planning, etc. I have solid numbers that I know I can bring in- I can increases donations by 15% of what ever I believe (confidently- I don’t blow up my #s) I can bring in. I also lay out what it will cost them if anything, a lot of these services are free now) and what my expectations are should they choose to bring me on after the month’s trial is up. I am sure to get these commitments in writing. It’s tuned out well for me more often than not.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/17  at  10:15 AM

Today in many NPO’s they seem to be unaware of scope and sequence planning. So they wait to fix the leaky roof until the downpour happens. That is why over the last 5 years with the financial downward pour/spiral of acid rain many NPO’s houses have very little left of their roofs. From Colleges (Universities) to small corner market NPO’s it is absolutely necessary to know where you are going or as Yogi Berra says: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Scope and sequence planning will help in four areas: relationship (you know which ones to invest in timing wise – they are all important but timing is everything) – recruiting (who are also connector that will help you get a hand up), retention ( in this way they are participates in solutions) relationships (yes again – nurture is necessary and trust which equals time) and that will give results every time.
Yes we need to repair the roof but that is done by all the NPO’s staff’s/board/executives, it is their job as stakeholders in what they are seeking to achieve together. Otherwise, no matter how brilliant your D.D. is and how slick marketing is…, that temporary tarp of your D.D./marketing over your roof will blow off in our current heavy storm (that is still growing in intensity).
N.P.O’s are an interesting part of healthy cultures we need ones in good physical shape, those countries that do not have them are very broken and the U.N. isn’t a shining example of healthy anything. So, AMEN sister, preach it, I bear witness to you!!! All sides of our N.P.O world’s need to be stakeholders and get up there and fix the roof, maintain it and reallllllllly plan together so each KNOWS their part in moving forward, because “The future ain’t what it used to be.” (Yogi Berra)... or a stronger quote from a hero of mine: “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Thank you for seeking the whole solution of: stakeholders responsibility (10 positives), because our future is what we make of it today - with action. Cheers! Stephen

Posted by Stephen J. Higgins  on  01/17  at  10:43 AM

This data rings true to my experience. I think it’s a board issue too.

The entire culture needs to understand the correct steps for effective philanthropy. Boards and CEOs often seem to want instant gratification. And fundraisers need to know how to do objective reporting that doesn’t sound like they’re blowing smoke.

All parties need to learn.

Posted by Marc A Pitman,  on  01/17  at  12:01 PM

I don’t know if the re-image fundraising is the answer.  But I would agree with numbers and stats like this shared something must be done.

I believe starting with fundraising itself and the way it tries to attract is changing.  People want to hear more stories and inspiration of why they should be involved or invested into something.

Without changing and doing something non profits are headed down a bad road and I don’t see it getting any better.

Great post!

Posted by Eric  on  01/17  at  01:08 PM

You are right to be flagging this issue. Despite the incredible efforts of people like AFP and others, the skillsets of fundraising, and understanding of fundraising is a critical problem for our sector.
For me, the real solution is not in the list of 10 provided by the survey. And to find it we have to look seriously at some of the numbers around in our sector. In 1968, philanthropy represented roughly 2% of GDP in the US. Today, it represents…..roughly 2% of GDP. Sure GDP has increased - by approx 1500% over that period. But the number of charities fighting for a piece of that pie has also increased - by over 100 000%.
This is the crux of the issue. We have far too many organisations out there fighting for an ever decreasing slice of the pie. For me, the solution we need to look at is engaging donors to help drive effective, sustainable and impactful consolidation of the charitable sector.

Posted by Jon Duschinsky  on  01/19  at  12:39 PM

Hi Katya,

Great topic!

During my time as an executive director and director of development for a nonprofit, I came first from the for profit world as a sales representative and also a small business owner. I had also served on nonprofit boards.

I see one main problem: Most board members are not recruited for their sales, marketing, PR or fundraising experience. Additionally, they are not asked to read and sign a job description that specifically states how much money they are expected to raise individually each year if they wish to stay on the board.

My advice: If your objective is to raise funds, recruit successful businesspeople who love to sell. These could be small business owners, former professional sales representatives, marketing executives, etc. And let your board members spend much less time in board meetings, and much more time selling (fundraising).

You will perhaps have heard this very old story illustrating the critical difference between people without a sales mentality and people with:

Many years ago two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential.

The first salesman reported back, “There is no potential here - nobody wears shoes.”

The second salesman reported back, “There is massive potential here - nobody wears shoes.”

Every nonprofit needs to fill their board with people like the second salesman.

And if you decide to keep anyone like the first salesman on your board, you need to train them how to sell and ask for the sale. You must train them in order to instill confidence in them, otherwise they will continue to be afraid to sell (fundraise).

Thank you Katya.

Kirt Manecke

Posted by Kirt Manecke  on  01/20  at  03:04 PM

Hi again Katya,

One more thing: The advice I gave for boards in my previous comment also pertains to staff.

Hire people who love to sell, and look for them in the for profit world. They don’t need nonprofit experience to make a huge impact, in fact, in many cases you don’t want them to have nonprofit experience as you need a fresh perspective and new ideas.

Look for someone who has had to meet sales quotas. Your job ad should read in part: “Must have successful for profit sales experience or experience running and growing a successful small business or start up. Must work with a sense of urgency and have an “always be selling” mindset.”

Thank you,

Kirt Manecke

Posted by Kirt Manecke  on  01/20  at  03:11 PM

I think kirt makes an excellent point. I was hired originally for sales, and moved to communications/ marketing, a dept. that had not previously existed, but after a lot of convincing and samples of projects and potential results, one was created. I proposed I take over the foundations fundraising as well, and raised75% more than ever before.  I offered to do the same for the places I volunteer at, and now I do it for pay- because I can sell. First, myself, then the org. In order to get funds. Selling is crucial. I try to make everyone I work for understand that.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  08:45 PM

Unfortunately there has been a pervasive abuse of tax exemption: there are far too many non-profits extant to accommodate the disposable dollars available for charitable giving. The term “abuse” may seem harsh, yet there exist today NPOs that are driving political agendas rather than what historically has been considered charitable activity worthy of tax exemption. Another part of the problem is otherwise legitimate nonprofits that undermine themselves by returning dubious value for their existence. For example, colleges that overspend against their value delivery while having large or growing endowments. In a career of sales, fund raising, and executive management I’ve learned three rules for sustainable sales success: have something that is worth buying, make it easy to buy, and keep your promises to buyers. The concerns about effective recruiting, systems, boards, etc. are important when the organization is committed to the three rules. Otherwise, performance will never be more than intermittently effective.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/22  at  09:35 AM

I take issue with Roger’s comment about “abuse” of nonprofit status and political work. I have worked in policy work for many years, and what organizations like the ones I’ve been a part of matter. Sure, it’s easy for everyone to understand that you should feed hungry kids and care for sick people, but those of us who work on policy look at why kids are hungry and why people have difficulty getting treatment. It does not serve the sector well to limit what we do to “charity” work and a sales mentality. I’m not selling anything. I recruit partners who help make needed change in the world.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/23  at  11:48 PM

I think were having some misunderstanding of what selling means obviously you don’t go out and knock on doors and Sell your political policy or akeychain for whatever work it is you do :selling is getting people to actually help your organization your nonprofit. Sell means persuade. So means to prove there is value inherent. You can apply that to women’s rights you can apply that to the world wildlife Federation. I’m sure you could apply that to selling cars if you want but the meaning is the same.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  02:59 PM

In Youth With A Mission, a worldwide evangelical organization, there are over 1400 live in/work in centers throughout the world. There are over 18,000 workers, none of whom are paid a salary (from the President - Loren Cunningham on down to the newest student). The only other organization I can think of right now that has zero paid staff is “Campus Crusade for Christ” under Bill Bright. Curiously, both of these organizations are the largest in the world. Both organizations have as their purpose to share Christ with people and to help people grow up into who God created them to be.
When people ask me if I am a volunteer, I tell them: “It’s worse than that; I actually pay room and board to be here!”

So as far as passion is concerned - maybe those people who are discontent and are not doing very well are not doing well because their passion level is too low. Upon closer examination of their own motivation, they will probably find that what they are truly passionate about has nothing to do with their current position.  That may also be true of the leaders of these organizations who are unable, or unwilling to take the time to vet their new hires to begin with and also to take the time to train their new hires once they are on board.

Being able to fundraise effectively is all about a desire to serve people;  and to make life a better experience for those who have chosen to “partner” with you and your ministry, whatever that may be.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/27  at  09:03 PM

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