Help! Our Fundraisers Keep Leaving Us

I don’t have to tell you that high turnover among senior fundraisers is a very costly problem for nonprofits. Evidence shows that the average time a chief development officer stays in one job is 18 months.  Finding and hiring someone to manage the fund development process is expensive and time consuming.  And it can take more than two years to bring even a seasoned fundraiser fully up to speed.  In the meantime, the bottom line suffers as fundraising activities are diminished or suspended, and donor relationships are disrupted.It doesn’t have to happen. If you are ready to re-examine your fundraising theories and practices, I would like to help. And the first meeting is always free. 
So what else is new?
So why has this been considered an inevitable state of affairs for so long?  I don’t believe money is the main reason; there just isn’t enough money out there to make it worth going through the upheaval of changing jobs so often.   It can’t be genetic!

I strongly encourage you to download and read Underdeveloped  a new study sponsored jointly by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. It finds that a major cause of high turnover among fundraisers is an organizational culture that does not support effective fund development.  Closely related are cluelessness about fundraising basics and a lack of respect for the fundraising profession among board members and – too often – executive directors. This is not news to most fundraisers, but it is the first time it has been backed up by credible research.

Dispatches from the front
Several years ago, I was hired by a nonprofit to help them fulfill their untapped potential for growth in individual giving, especially major gifts.  A few months into the job, I identified as potential major donors, two women, who had purchased $400 tickets to the organization’s fundraising lunch.  I visited each of them and both agreed to be co-chairs for the following year – an unprecedented (for that organization) give-or-get commitment of $20,000 apiece. Shortly thereafter, the executive director sent me an email telling me that she and the board were dissatisfied with my performance.  The new commitments did not count because “…we already knew them.”  Their value  was diminished even more because I had told her I enjoyed the meetings and that both women had readily agreed.  (I still have that email; you can’t make this stuff up.) I  had to conclude that my mandate was to to bring in major gifts from hostile strangers. That’s not fundraising; that’s mugging. That job lasted 9 months.

 In my 35  years as a staff member, consultant, and teacher, I have been involved with so many situations that make a Chief Development Officer’s job miserable, if not outright impossible:

  • There was  the executive director who routinely hired fundraising consultants  to work with her and the board without telling the chief development officer … 
  • the board that voted down follow-up mailings to new, expensively acquired direct mail donors … 
  • the ED who directed the CDO to call all current foundation and corporate funders and tell them that if we did not get additional  cash immediately  we would have to close … 
  • the ED who said he would evaluate all staff members on their fundraising results because everyone was expected to promote the organization everywhere – like on the bus ride to work … 
  • more than one ED who excluded the CDO from board meetings and even board development committee meetings … 
  • the program director who summoned and scolded the CDO every time a grant proposal was turned down …
  • the  event committee that insists on a CDO who is a social peer…
  •   And these are just a few examples from my own experience.
I should care because…?
I am not telling you this because I want you to feel sorry for fundraisers, or because I think fundraisers are always right. In all the above cases, the greatest damage done was to the organization and its ability to reach its full potential for resource development.  I am reaching out to you because I think the findings of this study show that, while it may not always be easy, there are ways to make changes that will make a real difference. However, it is impossible for the fundraiser to shift the tide alone.

OK –  these are extreme examples. Your situation is not that bad. But the executive director, the board,  and the development staff do not have to be out of sync. And, if ignored, these issues can grow into major problems.


I can help. For example:
  • If you have been frustrated by staff turnover or  are hiring a professional development director for the first time, I can help develop realistic expectations, understand the support and resources required to ensure success, create an effective job description, and get the new fundraiser off to a good start
  • I can provide coaching to upgrade the skills of the development staff, increase the ED and the board’s basic understanding of how fundraising works, and help the executive director, the chief development officer and the board work together more effectively.
  • I can develop custom training workshops, retreats, and follow up sessions to increase the board’s fundraising effectiveness, and presentations to help all staff understand fund development and how they have an important role in the process. .
  • If you feel things are not working but don’t know why, I can assess your current fund development systems, recommend changes, and help develop fundraising plans and budgets.
  • If you are between chief  development officers or have never worked with a development director, I can serve as temporary or interim development director on a flexible, part time basis
Let’s talk
 These interventions are not too difficult or too expensive for staff and board members who are willing to find ways to do things differently. The hardest part is challenging mind sets that may have very deep roots. Albert Einstein said you cannot solve a problem with the same mind set that created it.  In such cases, it is effective and much less costly to work on these core issues before committing to a full-time director of development.

So if you are struggling with these issues send me an email or give me a call at 212-501-0736, even if you don’t know where to start or what you need.  I would be happy to get together with you and learn more about your needs, so  we can determine whether I might be able to help.


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