Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising

Jeanne Bell & Marla Cornelius

January 2013, 36 pages. Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, 114 Sansome Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, California, 94104. (415) 856-1400 http://www.haasjr.org/


   Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising (734 Kb)

This report addresses the widespread concern in the nonprofit sector about premature turnover of development directors, lengthy vacancies in the role, and the seemingly thin pool of qualified candidates from which organizations can choose. The development director is commonly labeled a “revolving door” position, and “the hardest to fill and retain” by executives, board members, funders, and capacity builders alike. Moreover, the challenge of assessing development director performance when so many factors influence an organization’s fundraising success can leave executives and board members suspecting—but uncertain—that they could raise more money with someone else in the role. At the same time, development directors frequently lament the lack of consistent attention to fund development from executives, staff, and board members, rendering their job a frustrating set-up.

To better understand these dynamics and to uncover potential solutions to the fundraising challenges nonprofits face, CompassPoint surveyed more than 2,700 executive directors and development directors across the country. The sample includes a great diversity of organizations — a wide range of budget and staff sizes, a multitude of mission types, and diverse geographic representation — but the organizations have a critical commonality: a senior-level development staff person on their organizational chart, whether in place or currently vacant. Both development directors and executive directors are included in this research because of their potentially distinct perceptions of the “revolving door” and its causes.

This report illuminates what was learned about the specific dimensions of the staffing and organizational challenges, concluding with a set of recommendations intended to jump-start a national conversation about what can be done to help nonprofit organizations take their fund development to the next level.

Key Findings

The report is organized around three main challenges and concludes with a set of recommendations to jumpstart a national conversation about how we can all help nonprofits take their fund development to the next level.

  • Revolving Door. Organizations are struggling with high turnover and long vacancies in the development director position.
  • Help Wanted. Organizations aren’t finding enough qualified candidates for development director jobs. Executives also report performance problems and a lack of basic fundraising skills among key development staff.
  • It's About More Than One Person. Beyond creating a development director position and hiring someone who is qualified for the job, organizations and their leaders need to build the capacity, the systems, and the culture to support fundraising success. The findings indicate that many nonprofits aren’t doing this.
  • Breaking the Cycle. UnderDeveloped offers urgent calls to action for the nonprofit sector, citing key steps that nonprofit executives, funders, and sector leaders should consider as they set out to address the challenges detailed in the report.