Fundraising Staffing

5 Ways to Gurantee Your Development Staff Leave in Under 2 Years

I meet monthly with 8 experienced executives. Everyone of them frets, obsesses, and despairs about finding great development staff. The rest of the month, I travel around the world hearing the same comments.

I also have many friends and colleagues who are development professionals. They tell me horror stories about employment situations that lead them to carbohydrates, medication and send them out the door.

As the late Rodney King would say, “Why can’t we all get along?” Here are 5 mistakes I see boards and executives make that ensure their development director will leave.

  1. Pay a ridiculous salary. There is currently an ad on Craig’s list for a development professional. The position requires an MBA and 5 years experience or a CFRE. There is a list of 15 responsibilities including manage all aspect of individual giving, manage website, lead $3 million dollar capital campaign, design and write the newsletter, recruit  and manage volunteers,  represent agency at community events and the list goes on. Salary: $40,000.  I mean, really. 
  2. Reward great performance with unrealistic expectations. A friend of mine works at a university. The department she works in raised $350,000 in 2011. She raised $1,200,000 in fiscal 2012. The goal she was given for fiscal 2013, $2,500,000. The additional staff support, funding for meetings or training: zero. After a highly successful year, she is reading the want ads.
  3. Provide absolutely no board support. A client with a $40 M budget just hired their first development director. 90% of the board say, “I don’t have any money and neither do my friends.” When asked if their friends give even $25.00 a year to anyone, they say, “Well of course,” but they won’t turn over any names. Only one current board member is actively fundraising and cultivating friends and colleagues. The new director is setting up a little shrine in her office and praying for board turnover.
  4. Make sure your development staff has neither the funds nor the time for developing additional steams of revenue. Board members and executives are constantly coming up with new ways to fund raise. The two that are most commonly mentioned are “The Obama approach,” which involves getting a large number of small contributions over the web and “The Susan G. Koman” approach, involving cause-related marketing.  Both methods work well. BUT, are they the right methods for your organization, and will the board fund training and start-up costs for new venture? Many organizations won’t even pay for a local AFP meeting, much less a trip to the national meeting or a specialized meeting in a particular methodology.
  5. Make sure your development professional gets little to no recognition. I have a friend who is a development professional for a voluntary health agency. I did a board retreat for her organization. I almost croaked when the executive director said that he raised $2.3 million in the past year. The truth was, the development director raised the funds despite the executive’s boorish ways with major donors and corporate donors. At no time during his hour- long list of his accomplishments did he mention any of the staff. This organization is not on my donor “must give” list.


Development work is brutal. Times are hard and many people whose grandparents went through the depression still save string. Forget about recovering fully from the recent recession in a year or two. The scars of unemployment and losing 30-40% of one’s hard-earned portfolio run deep. If you want to keep your development director on-staff, productive and happy, pay well, make reasonable expectations, make sure your board is trained in fundraising, provide enough capital for education and new ventures. And if you publicly acknowledge great work, you will be golden.

I need Carol to