Fundraising is a key element of a nonprofit's success, but lacking a strong development director can throw it off track.

Why your ministry needs to pay more attention to top fundraising employees

Every organization wants to retain top performers. Regardless of if you're in the private sector, a government entity or a religious nonprofit, you want to hire people who will get the job done. However, getting these great employees to stay on can be difficult. This problem can threaten your entire ministry's success.

A 2013 report reveals the people in charge of your nonprofit's most important task may be ready to look for new work and it's difficult for many ministries to replace them. Top development employees are struggling in their roles, and so are those underneath them, which puts an organization's ability to raise funds at risk. Despite having tools like fundraising software to help the process along, technology isn't enough to guarantee goals are met each quarter.

Fundraising development directors do important work, but keeping them is difficult.Fundraising development directors do important work, but keeping them is difficult.

CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund conducted research that highlighted just what a big problem this is, especially for nonprofits with limited resources relying on a fundraising development director to lead the way.

"Nonprofits across the country undertake heroic work to protect and advance fundamental rights and opportunities for all people," Linda Wood, Senior Director of Leadership and Grantmaking with the Haas, Jr. Fund, said in a press release. "And in this era of shrinking government, they are being asked to pick up a greater share of responsibility for meeting basic human needs. This country needs a nonprofit sector that is vibrant and robust. Yet too many nonprofits struggle year in and year out to raise funds, and we wanted to dig deeper to understand the nature of the challenges."

"40 percent of development directors don't feel committed to their jobs."

The research found development directors definitely don't consider their jobs long-term careers. Forty percent of development directors weren't committed to their position and half anticipated leaving their position in two years or less. It's also increasingly difficult to fill these positions – the report found organizations that had a vacant position said it had been open for an average of six months.

Why have these development director opportunities have been sitting unfilled when so many Americans are still out of work? It appears as though there just aren't enough qualified candidates to do the work efficiently. Many organizations surveyed had been burned by a previous experience with a poor development director. Twenty-five percent said the last person who had held that role had been asked to leave the position, while the same amount said their last development director had no or very little experience conducting donor research and locking down donations.

This impacts an entire organization
An inexperienced or poor performing development director can hurt an entire nonprofit's fundraising and leave operations hanging by a thread. One-quarter of the organizations surveyed had absolutely no fundraising plan and 20 percent didn't even have a fundraising database. These are things a development director should play a key role in implementing, especially with all the donor management software now available to nonprofits.

Retaining talented development directors is key to exceptional fundraising.Retaining talented development directors is key to exceptional fundraising.

"This study shows that the fundraising problems facing nonprofit organizations are more extensive and more entrenched than anyone imagined," said Jeanne Bell, CEO of CompassPoint and coauthor of the study, in a press release. "As a sector, we need to elevate the importance of fund development as a leadership issue, invest in a stronger talent pool, and strengthen the ability of nonprofits to develop the systems that enable fundraising success."

Why are they going?
What's the reason the people in charge of fundraising leave their jobs? According to research from LinkedIn, what could convince an employee to change jobs compared to what compelled them to switch employers differs slightly. Survey respondents said better compensation and benefits, a better work/life balance and more opportunities for advancement could all convince them to seize a new career. More chances to move up in an organization, better senior management and better pay and benefits were listed as the main reasons people were compelled to change employers.

"A lack of leadership could be motivating development directors to leave their positions."

These reasons seem to correspond to some of the issues highlighted in the CompassPoint report. The research found 75 percent of executive directors said board members weren't doing enough to support fundraising, suggesting a lack of strong leadership may be motivating people to leave development director roles. Most development directors said they had only a little influence in big tasks like budget planning and getting staff members involved in fundraising, which hints they may want more opportunities to grow.

For these reasons, it's key every nonprofit board and executive director get serious about fundraising and what they can do to support the people in charge of it. Without strong leaders and the potential to grow within the role, fundraising professionals may leave quickly, and if it's hard to replace them a ministry could see fundraising initiatives dry up quickly.