October 12, 2012

5 Ways to Lose Your Development Director in 2 Years or Less

You hear it all the time: Experienced executives fretting, obsessing, and despairing about finding great development staff. Yet development directors have horror stories about employment situations that lead them to carbohydrates and medication and that eventually send them out the door.

Here are five mistakes I see boards and executives make that ensure their development director will leave.

1. Pay a ridiculous salary. A friend recently pointed out an ad on Craigslist for a development director. The position requires an MBA and five years' experience or a Certified Fund Raising Certificate. There is a list of 15 responsibilities, including manage all aspects of individual giving, manage Web site, lead $3-million capital campaign, design and write the newsletter, recruit and manage volunteers, represent the 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 $1.2-million in fiscal 2012. The goal she was given for fiscal 2013, $2.5-million. The additional staff support, financial support for meetings and training: zero. After a highly successful year, she is reading the want ads. 

3. Provide absolutely no board support. A client with a $40-million budget just hired its first development director. Ninety percent of the board members say, “I don’t have any money and neither do my friends.” When asked if their friends could give even $25 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. Don’t provide funds or the time for developing additional streams of revenue. Board members and executives are constantly coming up with new ways to raise money. 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. Komen” approach, which involves cause-related marketing. Both methods work well. But in either case, will the board support training and start-up costs for a new venture? Many organizations won’t even pay for a local Association of Fundraising Professionals meeting, much less a trip to the national meeting or a specialized meeting in a particular methodology.

5. Avoid recognizing the work of your development professional. Years ago, I was doing a nonprofit board retreat, and I almost croaked when the executive director said that he had raised millions in the previous year. The truth was, the development director had raised the funds despite the executive’s boorish ways with major donors and corporate donors. At no time during his hourlong list of his accomplishments did the executive director mention any of the staff. This group is not on my donor list.

Development work is brutal, and times are hard. Forget about recovering fully from the recession in a year or two. The scars of unemployment and losing 30 to 40 percent 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.