Have you heard the buzz about UnderDeveloped, the new national study from CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund?
Here’s the bottom line, as summarized by CompassPoint: “the report found high levels of turnover and lengthy vacancies in development director positions throughout the sector. More significantly, the study reveals deeper issues, including a lack of basic fundraising systems and inadequate attention to fund development among key board and staff leaders.”
This week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy live discussion featured the study’s coauthor (Marla Cornelius) and the VP for development at the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco (Julie Rickert). They use UnderDeveloped as a jumping-off point to discuss how to reduce fundraiser turnover at nonprofits.
As I read the online discussion (and contributed a few questions of my own), four themes jumped out at me, waved their arms around in the air, and made such a ruckus that I have to share them with you!
Fundraising needs to be thought of as “mission work” – core to the essence and success of your nonprofit.
Here’s the first dose of tough love: If a nonprofit organization doesn’t like to do fundraising, it shouldn’t be a nonprofit. It needs to find another business model, stat!
And if people who work for your nonprofit -- regardless of job title -- aren't interested in fundraising, is this really the right workplace for them?
Recently, I met an attorney for a civil rights organization who told me that she isn’t involved in fundraising activities for her nonprofit because she only does “substantive work.” (By that, I guess she meant program work.)
But here’s the definition of substantive. To be substantive is to have a firm basis in reality and therefore to be important, meaningful, or considerable.
It strikes me that "to be based in reality and to be important" makes for a pretty good definition of money, as well.
Sadly, the nonprofit civil rights attorney who doesn't consider fundraising substantive has a lot of company. A discussion commenter noted that, “I think there is often a big gap between the development office and the rest of the staff. The staff does not often understand the fundraising process where the development staff is charged to know every facet of the organization. It is frustrating. Do you think it would be helpful for staff to have basic knowledge of the fundraising process?”
Unsurprisingly, the guest experts replied, “Yes!” Marla Cornelius wrote, “I think we have to do more to demystify the role of fundraising. Many development directors I spoke with talked about being siloed, separated from other staff, and their work deeply misunderstood. We need to move fundraising into the center of the organization.”
Funding doesn’t occur neatly within an organization’s fiscal year cycles. Funding arrives in its own time, through an organic process.
In the Chronicle discussion, Marla Cornelius said, “Organizations operate in budget and grant cycles, but relationship building and cultivation takes a lot of time. We need to think long term and set goals that are realistic.”
As Jana Jane Hexter wrote in her Jan. 2013 Grants Champion e-zine, (subscribe here), “A little alarm bell goes off when anyone says that they want me to ‘get them grants.’
I will explore that statement with them. Do they actually mean that they want money and grants just seem like nice sized chunks of change? Or, do they have a comprehensive funding plan and see the place that grants with their associated limitations fit within their budget?
Boards and managers need to understand that winning grant funding takes a substantial lead time (6-18 months at least to get going), and is limited in scope and duration. Grants aren’t quick fixes to fill holes in budgets. They need to be part of a long-term strategic plan.”
Small is beautiful.
Seth Godin often says that it is the small organizations and businesses that he has the most hope for (in the context of adapting to change and being relevant).
Seems like UnderDeveloped’s authors agree with him. Marla Cornelius said, “Its interesting that while smaller organizations often fared worse [in terms of fundraising staff turnover], the area that they rated higher than larger orgs was in having a strong culture of philanthropy. I think smaller orgs can leverage their collaborative spirit.”
Within small nonprofits (at least for those which are moderately healthy and functional), all staff pitch in with fundraising activities and events. Everyone can have a legitimate, helpful role, and through these roles they will understand how fundraising works.
There is help out there!
Yes, UnderDeveloped is basically a downer. But the good news is that the United States has so many great training resources for nonprofit fundraising.
Marla Cornelius recommends:
- Regional or city-based leadership programs “that couple leadership with management and fundraising” (National Council of Nonprofits links to these types of programs here)
- Local nonprofit support centers