A new national study reveals that many nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed. A joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, this first-ever study found high levels of turnover and lengthy vacancies in development director positions throughout the sector, as well as deeper organizational issues, including the absence of basic fundraising systems and a lack of shared responsibility for fund development among key board and staff leaders at many organizations.
“Nonprofits across the country undertake heroic work to protect and advance fundamental rights and opportunities for all people,” said Linda Wood, Senior Director of Leadership and Grantmaking with the Haas, Jr. Fund. “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.”
“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. “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.”
With guidance and input from a national advisory group of fund development experts, CompassPoint surveyed more than 2,700 executive directors and development directors across the country. The research effort also included 11 focus groups with executive directors, development directors and nonprofit board members.
The participants’ organizations were notably diverse, but all had in common a senior-level development staff position, even if that position was vacant at the time of the study.
The report, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, describes three main challenges:
REVOLVING DOOR. Organizations often pin their hopes and dreams for fundraising on one person – the development director. Yet the study found high turnover and long vacancies in this 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.
UnderDeveloped concludes by offering a set of calls to action, key steps that nonprofits and their supporters can take.
Authors Jeanne Bell and Marla Cornelius suggest that nonprofits, their funders and capacity-building organizations in the sector must adopt “a profoundly different stance towards fundraising.” Linda Wood, Senior Director of Leadership and Grantmaking with the Haas, Jr. Fund, said she hopes the study becomes the spark for a national conversation about what can be done.
As a first step, CompassPoint will convene leaders across the country in a webinar series this spring to discuss the calls to action, and generate new ideas for helping nonprofits overcome these challenges.
For more information about the webinar and to add your name to the mailing list send an email to Marla Cornelius: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The full report is available at www.compasspoint.org/underdeveloped