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Impact Starts With Development

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I'm discovering the enormity of all the unavoidable realities associated with establishing a fully functional nonprofit. The day-to-day requires consistent manpower, which in turn requires organizational tools and resources contingent on managing money -- that's what keeps the proverbial lights on.

I rarely want to think about the money that's required to transform good ideas into reality. That's why I find the word "nonprofit" so appealing. I did not found my fledgling nonprofit with the intent of making fundraising my chief operational task -- no executive director can succeed in growing an organization if the daily grind of fundraising is the primary concern. It hinders focus on cause; it delays setting out and doing the good you want to do.

So nonprofits need development teams. Programs need those people who know all about keeping the lights on and bolstering the "doing-good" element. According to a recent Haas study, unmistakable inequities exist within fundraising operations. The field of nonprofit development tends to be effective at the top, with 21 percent of the biggest organizations raising 62 percent of the total amount given to the sector. That would be a fine statistic if the sector as a whole was also raising more, but across the roughly 1.3 million nonprofits in America, the money raised today averages the same as it did 40 years ago.

Why should we accept barriers to development tools and talent if were talking about, say, a food bank in Tulsa or an after-school program in Williamsburg? Why should there be competition when there is nothing inherently proprietary about altruism? Whether these nonprofits know it or not, they're contending for a diminishing pool of resources to fund programs. With so many great organizations fighting for a smaller and smaller slice of the pie, we need to make a bigger pie.

Faced with these challenges, the average tenure of a development hire is half a year -- the individual either moves into a different position or leaves. It's a vicious hiring cycle, the kind that leaves development positions open for months at a time, when what an organization needs most in that arena is a throughline and expertise -- someone who can foster friendships, who knows the history of the organization, its events and milestones, and who can garner additional support.

I'm confident that small, lean organizations have the most room for growth and impact in contrast to nationally recognizable charities. I'm confident, too, that a few more dollars raised could scale their good to new heights.

Sophisticated fundraising would achieve much in even the smallest charitable organizations. How do we best offer the passionate founder and fledgling executive director professional grade insight?