Development director positions are vacant for an average of six months. For organizations with budgets less than $1 million, the median vacancy jumps to 12 months. Some 16 percent of organizations’ development director positions have remained unfilled for two years or more.
Those are some of the results from a study released in January called “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.” It was produced by Oakland, Calif., nonprofit CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in San Francisco, Calif. Some 1,852 development directors and 870 nonprofit executive directors with budgets ranging from less than $1 million to more than $10 million were surveyed.
“What surprised us is not so much the findings themselves, but the degree to which these challenges are entrenched and systemic,” said CompassPoint Senior Project Director Marla Cornelius, one of the authors.
In addition to having difficulty finding development directors, nonprofits are also having trouble keeping them. About half of the surveyed development directors said they anticipated leaving their current jobs within two years, compared to 34 percent of executive directors. About 40 percent of surveyed development directors said they were unsure if they would remain in the field of fundraising.
More than one in five development directors (22 percent) said they have already given notice or were seriously considering doing so at the time they were surveyed, between May and July 2012. One quarter of executive directors said their previous development director was fired, citing poor fundraising performance, poor performance overall, and not fitting in with the organizational culture. More than half (53 percent) said the hiring process “attracted an insufficient number of candidates with the right mix of skills and experience,” according to the report’s authors.
Small organizations — those with annual budgets of less than $1 million — seem to struggle even more than their higher capitalized counterparts. Some 27 percent of executive directors from small organizations were very satisfied with their development director’s performance, compared to 41 percent of executive directors at organizations with budgets of more than $10 million. Only 18 percent of executive directors at small organizations said their boards were sufficiently or very sufficiently engaged in fundraising, as opposed to 42 percent at the largest organizations.
The report’s authors identified a subset of 183 high performers, those whose organizations garner at least 25 percent of their budgets from individual contributions and whose executive and development directors rated the organizations’ fundraising programs very effective. “They’ve figured this out and we’ve looked to them as bright spots,” said Cornelius.
Only 12 percent of these high performers said their organizations have no donor database, and 7 percent said they had no fundraising plan, compared to 21 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of the rest of the sample. Some 28 percent of high performers said they have sufficient capacity for fundraising; 9 percent of the rest of the sample said the same.
Development directors and executive directors often are at odds with how each group sees its organizations’ performance and its relationships with the other. Just 12 percent of development directors strongly agreed that their organization has a culture of philanthropy, compared to 20 percent of executive directors.
One-third (32 percent) of development directors versus 59 percent of executive directors strongly agreed that their organizations effectively steward donors. And, 43 percent of development directors classified their programs as not or somewhat effective, compared to 17 percent of executive directors. “Expectations, if they’re not mutually agreed to, you’re almost bound to have these challenges and disconnects,” said Cornelius.