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Development Directors and Their Challenges

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A fascinating article recently published in the L.A. Times revealed the results of a new study commissioned by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund that evaluated reasons why arts organizations and other not-for-profit institutions have problems meeting their fundraising goals. An important observation made by the authors of the study was that virtually half of development directors expect to search for new jobs within the next two years. One central reason offered for this high turnover rate is that development directors do not perceive that they have the full support of their organizations, including their bosses. The study concluded that fundraising success requires the involvement of everyone in the organization.

There is much to glean from this study but two points truly resonate:

1. It is not surprising that fundraising targets are not met when so many fundraisers expect to leave their positions. Fundraising is called development because we are trying to develop relationships with donors. The most generous funders are typically those who get to know our institutions, trust our people, and feel comfortable investing with us. These donors are the ones whose gifts will grow over time, will support major capital campaigns and will stay loyal during poor economic periods and through difficult situations. When the chief fundraiser leaves an organization, there is a discontinuity in donor relationships that can be very damaging. (That is one of the many reasons I suggest that others in the organization meet and work with donors - one can protect against someone leaving if there is more than one relationship formed between the donor and the institution.) If such a large proportion of our head fundraisers depart their organizations so often, one can imagine that donors are feeling very disconnected from the organizations they may support.

2. Fundraisers are entitled to feel abandoned when the entire organization does not appreciate their roles in making fundraising happen. While donors may form relationships with one or several executives, they are, most often, engaged by the work of the organization. In truth, every artist and educator plays a huge, de facto role in fundraising. But this role can be amplified (and there can be more resources for arts-making) when there is an explicit relationship formed between donor and artist. When donors get to know the artists, appreciate their passion and talent, and want to support their work, fundraising revenue can grow rapidly. Fundraisers must have the cooperation and support of their artists and the leaders of the organization must facilitate the formation of these relationships. But the members of the development department must do their part as well. They must appreciate that they are a conduit for these relationships and cannot feel like they 'own' all relationships with major donors.

I am hopeful this important study will raise many questions that encourage discussion and collaboration among executive directors, artistic directors and development directors. If so, we may see both fundraising revenue and the tenures of development directors increase markedly.