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The High Cost of Turnover: Why Non-Profits Burn Through Development Directors

“That’s not unusual.”

“It’s a common problem.”

“I’m sure it’s been frustrating.”

I find myself repeating these reassuring phrases to prospects and new clients all the time, about the same issue: development directors.

Most of my clients, from non-profits to alumni interest groups, have hired, and fired, their share of development professionals—two or three, five or six or more in just a few years—in that never-ending quest for donors and dollars. Why do non-profits burn through development directors so rapidly?

One of my top performing clients had five development directors in just under four years before we started working together. They ranged from seasoned, suit-wearing veterans to fresh-faced, social-savvy college grads. The first one spent his first eight months redesigning the logo. The second one burned out researching and purchasing a new donor database software. The third one spent every billable hour learning that software and every lunch hour complaining about it. The fourth quit when he learned there was no budget for someone else to update the software. The fifth scaled back the already sporadic donor communications plan because she was struggling to find anything to say. Instead of celebrating growing results, they were out thousands of dollars in salary and benefits, with nothing to show but a new logo, a database no one could use and an empty office.

Development directors arrive with that perceived special power to ask for money. Obviously personal solicitations and stewardship can be effective; it is a proven fact in fundraising that the most effective asks are based on the quality of the relationship between the prospect and the solicitor. A slick salesperson isn’t a substitute for the solid foundation on which successful fundraising is built—that high-quality relationship between the donor and the organization. Establishing that relationship takes more than a few lunches, cocktails and asking about the spouse and kids. A robust, clean database, a meaningful (to your donors) story, and a plan to communicate one-to-one, on a frequent, consistent basis are essential to sustainable success.

Our approach—and one of the reasons we’ve been so successful—is that we’ve demystified the process of fundraising. There is no magic bullet, no quick fix to your fundraising needs. No great hire, no development rock star who is going to take you to the promised land. Perhaps even more valuable, our experience indicates that if you invest in an ongoing dialogue, instead of in a high-priced solicitor, your organization will benefit from more than just raising money. It will grow and transform organically, resulting in a total rebirth.

 Answer these key questions honestly before you think about your next hire:

ü  Does your group have committed leadership and a strong board of directors?

ü  Have you developed and are you executing a solid strategic plan?

ü  Do you desire to maximize every dollar?

ü  Do you have a history of strong communications, a solid annual fund, and accurate database?

ü  Does your mission conjure up a positive cluster of opinions in your donors’ hearts and minds?

If you can’t check off these five criteria, you’re destined to burn through more development staff without a return on your investment. If you want a results-based partnership that helps you strive toward these five critical points, call me to explore better options. Ready to stop relying on magic bullets and superhero solicitors? Call me before you place your next help wanted ad.