Six Best Practices Top Development Shops Offer to Set Fundraisers Up for Success

Welcome to part III of our focus on frontline fundraiser success. Two of our previous posts, Four qualities of strong potential development officers and Five Behaviors of Top Fundraisers set up our understanding of what defines a frontline fundraiser’s potential, but those components alone will not necessarily lead to success. In order for a development officer to realize his potential he needs to have adequate incentive and support from the development shop and institution itself. The following are six ways that the best leadership and development offices support the success and efforts of their fundraisers:


1. Select, outcome-oriented metrics

Metrics are a hot topic in development right now. Nearly all large shops have now implemented metrics to measure and review fundraiser performance. This is definitely a step in the right direction. However, there has been a tendency to overcorrect in this area. Instead of picking a few key areas to measure each calendar period many DOs are now expected to track more and more, with some institutions tracking as many as 12-15 categories at a time.  At this point the metrics become more burdensome than illuminating. More is not better. The best development shops have a targeted set of metrics that they track, opting for complexity over volume.  Fundraisers may do many productive things in their day-to-day activities, but it is best to focus on  the specific behaviors that have been shown to lead to results and their outcome. It’s the difference between tracking how many solicitations a fundraiser makes in a quarter and how many solicitations led to a closed gift in the same time period. The former is a good way to track behavior while the latter encourages fundraisers to exhibit the behaviors we discussed in part II of this series.

2. Access to leadership

Fundraisers who have regular access to and communication with leadership are able to do two things more effectively than their peers: have a better perspective from which they can translate the institution’s vision, exciting projects, and mission to prospects; and feel more comfortable and be more active utilizing leadership to solicit and close big gifts. Both can significantly improve performance. Furthermore, having leadership more involved and engaged with your fundraisers communicates to them that development is indeed a priority and that their efforts are valued by your institution.

3. Clear budget and reporting lines

This best practice mostly applies to those organization that have program and unit-based fundraisers.  It is frighteningly common to meet with even a seasoned DO located in a unit who is unsure of a) where the budget line for her salary falls and b) who ultimately is responsible for managing her and making strategic decisions on the program’s fundraising.   What can result from this murkiness is you end up seeing fundraisers who take on more and more duties related to the unit or program itself at the expense of actual fundraising. Establishing clear budget and reporting lines helps to eliminate this problem through forcing both central and unit management to acknowledge their financial commitment and investment for fundraising and agree on reporting and performance expectations for the DO.

4. Adequate staff support

It is still very common to see full teams of 6-10 fundraisers supported by one support staff member who focuses on primarily calendar, document processing, and general support. What is also common in this scenario is that your fundraisers spend more of their time on administrative and program-related needs. This comes at a huge opportunity cost to your organization (the real cost of a fundraiser’s time is something we will visit later) and can have the same effect on fundraising performance as a decrease in frontline fundraising FTE for the development office. The best development shops today are being smarter and more forthcoming with support for their fundraisers, hiring individuals who can manage more complex support functions and mobilizing their development operations team to work in closer partnership with development officers.

5. Strong prospect management

From having strong research profiles, to useful and informative reports, to balancing out the ratio of discovery versus cultivation stage prospects in a portfolio, to moves management and tracking individual prospect progress a strong prospect management team is a must in today’s fundraising world. Prospect management keeps your program honest and drives activity and new strategy for those donors and prospects who might otherwise be neglected or ignored. Furthermore, fundraisers who are backed by a competent prospecting team are given better tools, a more informed strategy and roadmap, and increased collaboration and cohension that enhance their chance to successfully secure major gifts.

6.  Professional development and training

The best actors in the world spend hundreds of hours each month attending workshops, rehearsals, and working with private coaches. Professional and olympic athletes will train for hours, review past performances to no end, and mix in elements like dance and yoga to round out the physicality that they have already developed. That is because those individuals who excel, no matter the field, are those who focus on growth even after they may have reached an initial level of “success”. Fundraising is no different – there are always skills that can be improved, new tools that a fundraiser can utilize, and creative thinking that can be unlocked.  Additionally,  professional development and training increases job satisfaction and motivation and signals to your fundraising team that you value their contribution and intend to partner with them on their career paths (which improves retention).


Basically most of these boil down to giving your development and major gift officers the tools and time to do what they do best: meet with prospects and ask for gifts.  How each shop does the above will depend on resources, institutional norms, and the talent pool, but all five should be goals.


5 thoughts on “Six Best Practices Top Development Shops Offer to Set Fundraisers Up for Success

  1. Pingback: Four qualities of strong potential development officers | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  2. Pingback: Five behaviors of top fundraisers | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  3. Pingback: What is the real cost of an hour of Development Officer time? | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  4. Pingback: The Fundraiser Talent Shortage – An Interview with Bruce Flessner | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  5. Pingback: Five Reasons why you should invest in strong development operations talent | Targeting Fundraising Talent

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