A Gala is not a Development strategy

Many nonprofit organizations nowadays seem to feel generally uncertain about the future but specifically unhappy with their Development departments. The symptoms are easily recognizable: high turnover in the Development Director role, long vacancies, and general grumbling from boards and leadership. Why is there an apparent shortage of credible candidates for open positions and what has caused widely reported unhappiness with the performance and so many in this role? Were Development Directors so disappointing 10 or 15 years ago? Did we get better at diagnosing the problem or did the role suddenly become unattractive to competent, hard working candidates?

As usual, the truth is much simpler: the environment in which non-profits operate has changed, and many organizations haven’t. Government support is declining as needs for most social services are rising, and we know what happens when the same strategies are expected to yield improved results. For many that strategy is event based, and if galas and fundraiser auctions and walks are usually fun, falling short of fundraising goals is not.

For most in the non profit world, events are now necessary but not sufficient—a fine way of reaffirming a sense of community while making new friends, celebrating staff and supporters and maybe even making a little money for the cause. All good things. But what is increasingly obvious is that the organizations that survive and thrive will be those with engaged, committed partners. Will they be from the worlds of business, foundations, government…philanthropists focused on specific causes, community issues, saving lives, saving money, saving the world?

The answer is, of course, yes.

Development is building and deepening all these kinds of relationships over time, making the case for support in ways that go well beyond what has been the stock approach for decades—the idea that reducing suffering and helping others is the right thing to do. In the age of data and transparency, providing measurable results and focusing on replicable and scalable solutions will greatly improve their chances.

The key task for organizations is to change their mindset, engage their leaders and many others, put proper systems in place and redefine ‘development’ as a shared responsibility.

This is not going to make the Development Director’s job easier, but it will make it possible.



by Christie Foster