Challenge: A Crisis in Development

While the “gifting” side of this equation is highly robust and growing rapidly, the “accepting” side is in trouble. Turnover, burnout, inconsistent training and long vacancies in nonprofit fundraising positions are at a record high. In 2013, two national studies revealed that nonprofit development is a field in crisis.


Key Facts:

  • High Turnover and Burnout: It was discovered that 52% of development professionals on average change jobs every 12–24 months. The smaller the nonprofit, the higher the turnover.
  • Long Vacancies: Once vacant, development jobs go unfilled for long periods of time. Half of organizations surveyed had development positions open for more than six months. For smaller organizations these positions are often open for up to one year, while 16% surveyed stated their jobs are open for two years or more. The data confirms that, “some organizations essentially give up on finding someone to fill the role.”
  • Unreasonable Expectations: Departing fundraisers felt the expectations of their work were “unrealistic” and that their organizations “lacked an understanding of development.”
  • Insufficient Support: Inadequate resources and training were cited by 58% as reasons for departure; 43% of development directors describe their existing fundraising systems as “not at all effective” or “only somewhat effective.”
  • Lack of Training: Development Directors have widely varying levels of training and competency for the job. Fundraisers in small organizations are much less likely to have the range of skills and experience that their counterparts at larger nonprofits do.
  • High Field Departure: More alarming, over 40% of currently employed fundraising professionals expect to leave the development field within two years.

Both studies reveal that a surprising number of nonprofits lack the fundamental tools and talent for fund development success. These include a basic annual fundraising plan, efficient database systems, essential board and executive leadership training, and a shared culture of philanthropy across the organization.

The model of the internal staff position of the Development Director—especially in small and mid-sized organizations—is suffering. The result of high turnover and burnout is poor donor relations and buy-in, and database systems that are not kept up-to-date. When supporters are not regularly kept apprised of the good work done by organizations they fund, their attention—and their financial resources—drift away. The ultimate consequence is inconsistent financial support for many of today’s nonprofit organizations.

Sources: A National Study on Nonprofit Chief Development Officer Retention, by Campbell & Company. Download here.

Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. Download here.

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