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Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising

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A recently released study, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, should be on the radar of all development professionals. The research, a joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, provides an important assessment of the state of the advancement profession. Key findings include the challenges faced by smaller nonprofits and the advancement staff they seek to recruit and retain. The report is based on a survey of more than twenty-seven hundred nonprofit executive and development directors.

This study is ripe with insights worth examining in this and future GivingTake blog posts. As turnover has always been a top of mind issue in the field of advancement, I want to take on that point first through the lens of this study. Take a look at Graph A from the report. It reports on directors of development who anticipate leaving their posts within two years. It does not speak to this being a voluntary departure or an anticipated termination.

The study study also provided statistics on Development Director compensation by organizational budget size:

Budget Size Average Salary
under $1 million $49,141
between $1-5 million $65,974

between $5-10 million $80,015
over $10 million $100,127

So what can we learn here?
With a 100+% difference in compensation between the smallest and largest organization, the attrition rate varies only 33%. Which raises the question… does compensation play a key role or are other factors influencing dissatisfaction and reasons to leave?

Two points to consider:

  1. Chart A illustrates that difference in turnover rates between organizations with budgets under $1 million and those over $10 million is not nearly as significant compared to the vast difference in organizational size and likely salary differentials.
  2. The data suggests a turnover rate of roughly 25% a year. When compared to the voluntary turnover rates in other major industries as illustrated in Graph B below – which is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2005-2006 – this 25% annual rate is comparable to private industry, construction, trade, transportation and utilities, retail, information technology, professional and business services, and recreational and hospitality industries. While these statistics do not represent solely management positions, they are within a reasonably close range to make note.

There are many factors that contribute to turnover of advancement professionals.
They range from unreasonable performance expectations given the state of the culture of philanthropy at the NPO; the strength of partnership between the advancement officer and the executive director and board of trustees; and challenging budgets that prevent execution of basic advancement strategies. These address the management side.

The other side of the coin speaks to the qualifications of the advancement officer. Well qualified officers are likely looking for better compensation at institutions with better mission alignment, while others may have sufficient skills but cannot be successful in suboptimum conditions. Still others may have skills in defined areas (annual giving) but are not qualified for management and leadership positions. And still others may be trying out the advancement profession after transitioning from a related profession, but without success.

UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising is a valuable report worthy of your study. In essence, it speaks to what we all know…that fundraising and advancement is a “team sport” and that like all sports, leadership and vision are essential to victory.

Your takes:

1. Read UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising and share it with your boss and board members.

2. Discuss the relevant findings with the relevant people in your organization in an effort to improve the conditions for your success.

3. Do some soul searching to be sure you are in the right job for the right organization that is capable of advancement success.

For more information about Copley Raff and its spectrum of not for profit consulting services, please see