A New Year’s Resolution List for Leaders to Consider Right Now

Maximizing the Return on Your Investment in Staff Development

The Manager Gap – Why Fundraising Managers Are Important and Five Factors of Ineffective Frontline Leadership

When you dive into the topic of talent management in fundraising and development one key topic arises again and again: the challenge and shortage of effective management, especially of frontline fundraisers. This is an issue that has rebounding implications, as ineffective (or nonexistent) management can cripple an entire program. Prioritizing management of fundraisers is thus important because:

  • Management and leadership drive fundraiser engagement and have a strong determining role in overall retention. Most surveyed frontline fundraisers who reported low satisfaction attributed it to leadership or management elements not compensation, cause, or geographic location.
  • Managing and building strategy for the frontline impacts performance dramatically,both in short and long term. Managers have the ability to not only inspire collaboration and strategic thinking, but they are the key players in meaningful goal setting and professional growth for the fundraising team, but factors largely influence fundraising performance.
  • Managers serve as a critical leadership linkage between institutional initiatives and human capital. Fundraisers focus on donors, rightfully so. Institutions focus on vision and programs. Those who manage fundraisers fill the gap between those two activities, building outcomes from institutional direction and providing focus in individual agendas.

Branson Quote

Managers in development are thus hugely important to building momentum, providing staffing stability, and driving performance. Why does fundraising management fall short so frequently then?

Any combination of the following five factors are typically at play when management of fundraisers is ineffective:

  • (1) Leadership buy into the misconception that, as seasoned professionals, fundraisers require minimal management. Yes, we’ve talked about how high performing fundraisers need to have independence, but the opposite of micro-management is not absence of leadership. Frontline fundraisers frequently report frustrations with their lack of access to and direction from their managers and team leaders. Moreover, donor relations and gift outcomes are optimize by multiple points of contact and clear strategy. Managers who are disengaged from their team negate that opportunity.
  • (2) There is a small talent pool of frontline fundraisers with meaningful management experience. Development and major gift officers are looking to be managed by “one of their own”, meaning that they trust and respond more readily to individuals who themselves have experience as a fundraiser. We’ve talked about the general shortage of frontline fundraising talent across the country, and the shortage is even more pronounced when searching for individuals who both know major gift relationship-building strategy and are comfortable building a budget and negotiating office politics. This leads us to…
  • (3) Fundraising shops are growing rapidly and promoting individuals without professional skill investment.  More and more unit-based and separate fundraising programs require larger teams. As these teams grow the most senior fundraiser is often promoted and management responsibilities are subsequently treated as a “add-on” to existing fundraising responsibilities without meaningful training. Of surveyed fundraisers with 10+ years of experience the most frequently requested training and professional development topic area was in leadership and managing a team. We have a full class of individuals with great fundraising skills and new management expectations, but little support in building their capacity to meet those new expectations.
  • (4) There are rising demands and responsibilities for existing leadership. Plainly, many managers and leaders in development don’t have the time (or don’t believe they have the time) to spend building and engaging their team members. There are too many fires to put out, too many volunteers to respond to, and too many items on the event calendar to plan for, not to mention that these leaders often have high-level portfolios of their own. Non-profit development leaders are often overworked and talent management falls to the bottom of the totem pole too frequently. This can often be a symptom of a larger problem, which is that…
  • (5) The development office and team members aren’t fully valued at an institution. Some organizations operate with the assumption that fundraising exists outside of institutional programming and general engagement. Fundraisers are expected to “do their thing” and bring in money, separate from institutional staff (whether they be program managers, faculty, physicians, or CEOs/Presidents). What this dynamic effectively communicates across an organization is that, not only is development somehow less related to the institutional mission and impact, but also that the happiness and engagement of those who do development work is a lower priority.

Silos Are For Cows, Not for Deans and Development Officers



cow Having resided for much of my life among dairy farms in either upstate New York or northeast  Wisconsin, I’ve had a lot of exposure to silos—the physical structures in which farmers store grain  for their livestock. But the experiences I’ve had with college and university silos—the  metaphorical but nonetheless very real structures in which schools, departments and disciplines  isolate themselves from the rest of their institution—have been far more profound and always  more troublesome.

The presence of academic and administrative silos within an institution inevitably influences the  behavior of fundraisers who serve those subunits. Such silo-induced thinking leads fundraisers to  act in counterproductive ways that minimize fundraising yields at both the institutional and  subunit levels, mostly because they are focusing on their own program’s bottom-line needs and  not giving primary attention to the interests, motivations and aspirations of their donors.

Top donors usually have multiple points of contact with a college or university they are  supporting; nonetheless, those donors tend to view their multi-faceted colleges and universities as  a single entity. Even if interacting with multiple units and personnel, they are interested in the  overall success and reputation of the entire institution. They also believe—often wrongly—that the  various people and parts of the institution are communicating with one another.

When academic fundraisers operate in silos and do not actively collaborate with their counterparts from other silos, several bad things can happen:

  • Confusion:  Donors may mix up the multiple appeals, confuse which personnel represent which program, forget what gifts they’ve made, or overlook pledge payments.
  • Frustration:  Donors’ confusion can quickly lead to irritation, which may result in reduced giving to one or more subunits—or no giving at all.
  • Inefficiency:  Even when donors give generously to multiple programs, if that giving is not coordinated there is still wasteful duplication of dollars and efforts expended on soliciting and stewarding those gifts.
  • Uncertainty: At some point, a donor who observes a multiplicity of uncoordinated fundraising efforts from a single college or university is going to have doubts about the management and leadership of that institution, which will likely affect that donor’s future giving decisions.

On the other hand, when fundraisers climb out of their silos and collaborate, several positive things can happen:

  • Efficiency:  Eliminating duplication of expenditures and effort means that more resources can be devoted to other donors and other projects.
  • Synergy: When formerly siloed fundraisers collaborate, they create the potential for synergy from sharing of ideas, information and perspectives about a donor that may help both of them be more effective in their solicitations.
  • Teamwork: If two or more fundraisers and their programs coordinate their strategy and tactics, their combined solicitation team can be more persuasive than if they operated separately…and they will also eliminate the possibility of a donor playing one program against the other.
  • Camaraderie:  When fundraisers collaborate,  greater respect, trust and support tend to emerge; from this camaraderie can develop an environment in which colleagues look out for one another and make a point of sharing information and new possibilities.
  • Karma: From a culture of camaraderie and trust may emerge a belief that if a fundraiser in one program shares a promising prospect with a colleague in another program, that act of collaboration will eventually be reciprocated by the original beneficiary and/or by other colleagues.
  • Donor-centricity:  If we de-emphasize what’s best for our unit and our own best interests, the focus will shift to what’s best for our donors. When that happens, donors will become more fully engaged with our institutions, become more informed and excited by all that we’re doing, and ultimately increase their overall giving—often to the benefit of the fundraiser and unit that took the initiative to expand the donor’s engagement.

Some readers will no doubt react to this mini-rant against siloed fundraising as self-evident and a description of behavior in which they and their institution would never engage. If that’s indeed the case, you have my congratulations and admiration. But fundraising in silos remains a far more common phenomenon that I’d like to think, and my visits to several large, multi-faceted universities over the past year have confirmed for me that it’s still alive and impeding progress at numerous institutions.

I am a firm believer in doing the right thing and seizing opportunities to expand a donor’s engagement with our institution, even it means “sharing” our best prospects with other. I believe this because I think it’s philosophically the right thing to do. But I’ve also witnessed how it’s good for business and ultimately pays off.

The most illustrative example from my career involved a top donor to the school I served at a complex research university. While the donor had been generous to our school by most any measure, we knew he had the potential to do much more, but numerous attempts had failed to unlock it. Then, after discovering our friend had a passion for architecture and historic preservation, I persuaded my dean that if he were to introduce the donor to the leaders of our historic restoration program the donor and the university leadership would all appreciate his sharing. Skipping over a lot of detail to get to the end of the tale, I can report that the donor did indeed become very involved in the historic restoration effort, was appointed to the university’s governing board, and made an eight-figure pledge to the university’s next campaign. And my dean—the one who shared this generous donor with others at the university—received from the donor a naming gift for a new facility that far exceeded any of his previous gifts to the school, as well as a coveted award for community-spirited contributions to the university.

For more about the dangers of silos and the benefits of cross-division collaboration, I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s enjoyable 2006 book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors (http://www.tablegroup.com/books/silos). According to Lencioni, silos—and the turf wars they enable—devastate organizations by wasting resources, killing productivity and jeopardizing results.  His book provides useful advice on how to “eliminate the invisible barriers that separate work teams, departments and divisions, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.”



Four Principles for Better Fundraising Team Management

I’ve been thinking a lot about why talented team members leave lately. In the development world in particular, where it is relatively easy for a talented individual to find another institution it is very important to keep and support the talent that you do have. In a few studies of why fundraising professionals leave organizations one frequently cited reason beyond the “better job offer” explanations have to do with inadequate support from management and culture. Below are four key points that help prevent and combat staff dissatisfaction with management in fundraising.


1. Positive feedback and consistency will yield more results than punitive measures

A big difference between effective managers and those who fail to lead their team is clarity and consistency in expectations. There are few things more frustrating for direct reports than to have worked diligently on a project or initiative to be told after the fact that their work wasn’t on a top priority, or wasn’t what was actually wanted. In the metrics-driven world of development this can often become not only an issue of morale but of ineffective performance evaluations. Positive feedback is more than recognition and “good job” notices; it’s aligning the structures behind recognition and evaluation with the directives that are given. For example, fundraisers are often told to go on as many visits as possible, but may be also told that multiple meetings in office are mandatory. As a manager it is your responsibility to be clear on the degree to which the mandatory meetings are prioritized over prospect visits (only acceptable for top 25, never acceptable) and reinforce that decision when metrics may reflect time spent elsewhere.

2. Your body language and attitude matter more than what you say.

We as humans are often far more perceptive of body language and subtext in communication that the actual content that is delivered orally. Similarly, we are more sensitive to mood and atmosphere than we are to simple communications, because we attach deeper meaning to those aspects of work life. If a manager goes to compliment or discuss something with a team member while frustrated/tense/angry, even if that frustration is not due to the team member’s behavior, then the conversation will be remembered as negative and can do damage to a staff member’s job satisfaction and confidence. Being aware of your mood and how your approach influences the experience of your colleagues is a skill that is difficult to develop, but critical to long-term success and confidence in your leadership.

3.  Training and professional development are never complete

Often as a manager you can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things you have to deal with. When managing a large team, especially one where there are team members who need extra attention to have adequate performance, it is easy to rely on your top performers for consistency. Strong or experienced team members rarely require you to “put out fires,” but, while that makes it easier on you, it doesn’t mean that those individuals don’t have greater ambitions or even weak areas that they need to develop. Integrating training and professional development opportunities and discussions into your regular management routine helps communicate value to your fundraising team. Providing professional development and training to more seasoned individuals can also have a positive impact on the overall team, equipping those individuals with more skills and tools to be leaders and stewards of junior team members.

4. Development operations/advancement services are critical to office morale and culture

In development it is really easy to work in silos, whether they be between academic units at a university, programs in a development office, or leadership and staff. One of the most common “divisions” is between the teams who manage people (development, fundraising) and the teams who manage systems and data (advancement services, development operations). We’ve talked before about how important having strong development operations talent is. How that talent is treated, valued, and included can have a great impact on the overall effectiveness/satisfaction of your team. Open and clear communication between the two areas helps foster creativity in dealing with strategic and procedural challenges. Fostering a positive environment on the operations side increases the tendency for team members to be proactive in supporting and structuring frontline fundraising activity. On the other end, when your development team has both confidence and access to operations teams they are more likely to be better system and database users, collaborate more effectively with research, and reach out when new needs arise.

5 Resolutions for Better Development Talent in the New Year

1.       Spend more time building a strong team in house.

It’s easy to reward and pay attention to the senior team members and high performers in a development shop. This year we should focus on building a team ready to lead your organization’s fundraising for the next 3-5 years and beyond. Identify 3-4 fundraisers or development operations team members who have high unrealized potential, and then devise a program for professional development and/or mentorship for each. These efforts will not only see a large boost in effectiveness and skill sets, but it will also engage and build confidence amongst a core group that your organization wants to retain.

2.       “Lose weight” across the office

One thing I have learned in working with many development offices and fundraising shops is that team members are often brimming with ideas for office improvements and new projects, but rarely get a chance to present or implement those ideas. Try having 2014 be the year that you let teams own 2-3 projects aimed at streamlining a process, improving communication across development, or protecting time towards direct fundraising activities.

3.       Set aside time for the team and office culture

Time and time again we encounter great talent and team members who leave an institution not because of title or pay but because of a toxic or unsupportive work environment. Be better in 2014 about building a strong office culture that makes fundraisers, support staff, and development operations team members want to come in and contribute their time for your organization. Sometimes the most difficult part of this process comes with identifying what the actual issues facing your office are. Ask you team to contribute to this discussion and listen to what they have to say. Then do your best to address those concerns and create a more positive, supportive space in your development shop.

4.       Be a proactive “recruiter”

Chances are if your organization has more than 6 frontline fundraisers you will either be looking for a new hire or replacing someone in the next 12-18 months. This year try proactively networking and building relationships with local and regional development leaders. Try to identify who the star and rising talent is in your area and professional network and brainstorm about which candidates you might like to add to your team and what your organization would need to do to theoretically recruit them. When the time comes to post a job you will be better organized, prepared, and have a strong idea of where to look and will shorten the hiring process.

5.       Learn a new trick/skill

For that matter – set the goal to see if everyone on your team can learn at least one new skill in the next 12 months. Low discovery results? Set up a training or a workshop for fundraisers to practice and build cold call skills. Database difficulties? Use the new year as an opportunity to teach new shortcuts or reporting to users. Learning is one of the most powerful sources of employee and team engagement and greatly contributes to job satisfaction and fights boredom.

The Abundance of Titles in Frontline Fundraising

I’m going to focus the next few posts about the diversification and inflation of titles in fundraising-related positions.

Title inflation is the new hot topic in talent management in the field (something we’ve brought up before). It can be a struggle to retain or recruit fundraisers without being able to offer them a bump in position (even if that bump is only in name). In many cases this can result in a false inflation of titles that may not directly correlate to level of experience or leadership responsibilities. Some institutions refuse to update name titles, however, either due to institutional regulations or leadership direction. Furthermore, there is little to no consistency in the hierarchy of these new titles, resulting in a decent amount of confusion. Below is a visual example of what a hiring manager in the non-profit sector might have to navigate to find a new hire. Keep in mind the categories below could each be further broken out in 4-5 ways depending on unit titles, additional responsibilities, seniority at the institution, and recruitment endeavors.

Frontline Fundraisers map

In the next few posts I will be doing a mapping of what titles specifically are commonly used in the non-profit sector, broken out by institutional type. Keep your eyes peeled or follow targetingfundraisingtalent.wordpress.com to make sure you don’t miss these updates!

Four Ways Managers Can Better Motivate Fundraisers and Support Development Officer Growth

We spend a lot of time in this field talking about the struggles of hiring new development officers and fundraisers and devote even more time dissecting and understanding what motivates donors and volunteers, but little time has been spent discussing what actually motivates and inspires fundraising staff members. 

High fives, unfortunately, are not on the list.

High fives, unfortunately, are not on the list.


Earlier this week we talked about incentive pay and we will see several follow-up posts on the debate of the role of fundraiser “bonuses” in the non-profit sector. For now, however, I’d like to spend some time thinking about how organizations can motivate and drive performance of their fundraisers outside of an incentive pay structure.  Below are four ways that managers and organization directors can motivate and inspire better performance from their fundraisers:

1. Provide leadership and be a fundraiser’s ally in the office.

Running a development shop can be  a handful and it is easy to forget that fundraisers, even those with a decade plus of experience, need leadership and support. Managers can prioritize being available and visible for fundraisers, listening to their feedback and being an ally in reforming systems and structures to better facilitate development work. In a recent survey of a client’s staff nearly half of those surveyed reported low job satisfaction. When asked to detail the reasoning behind their answers the most frequently cited concern was a lack of leadership attention and support. As one fundraiser stated:

I would …like to have a resource on the senior team, someone to hear my opinions and guide me in a career path, rather than someone who I do not even have a regular weekly meeting with.

Senior teams can get so preoccupied with running an office that they lose sight of the challenge and complexity of the day-to-day work of their staff members. Fundraisers who have regular contact with senior managers feel more comfortable discussing difficult prospects, job concerns, and bringing in others for donor relations and solicitations. This, in turn, improves overall results.

2. Connect team members to programs and the impact of your organization’s mission and work.

I have yet to meet someone who decided to work at a non-profit to make money. One close contact of mine left a career in venture capital to serve as executive director for an organization supporting homeless families. He is closely connected to his work and can talk for hours about the lives impacted by his non-profit. It’s genuine passion that drives what he does. Donors and board members recognize that passion and respond accordingly.

Fundraisers can get stuck in the day to day cycle of scheduling meetings, reviewing reports, and delivering rehearsed messaging. Those who more regularly participate in and facilitate the communication of a non-profit’s impact find the work more rewarding and are motivated to do more. Managers should ask themselves if their fundraising teams get the chance to see the mission realized of the organization. In a meeting with a new hire or job candidate the topic of a specific mission and non-profit’s good work will almost always be featured as a driver for why they sought a position with you in the first place.  If you asked your seasoned fundraising team to tell you why they work at your institution now, would the mission or impact feature in the top 3-4 reasons listed?

3. Recognize and celebrate outstanding work.

We spend a lot of time talking about metrics (and with good reason). Most fundraisers are very familiar with the statistics and numbers behind their goals and performance reviews (assuming that their managers are communicating those metrics clearly as they should be). They realize what benchmarks define “success” for the year. However, the most effective managers are those who treat metrics as a baseline expectation for performance, not the highlight.

Some people feel wary acknowledging fundraiser performance because it can feel callous to celebrate and congratulate an individual for the generosity of another, but recognizing performance doesn’t have to happen in such a rote manner. If a fundraiser comes up with a creative way of stewarding a planned gift that dramatically improved the relationship with a donor that should be celebrated. When board members specifically call out someone on your team as helpful or wonderful to talk to that is an achievement. You team should know that you notice and valuable the intangible qualities they bring to their job in addition to meeting expectations for gift income. Furthermore, when ambitious goals are met and surpassed that doesn’t just mean that the fundraiser did an outstanding job but that new relationships were forged in the interest of a larger mission for good. That’s something to be celebrated. When staff members feel that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated they, in return, commit more energy towards their work.

4. Support creativity and team brainstorming.

In that same survey mentioned above we found that, even though many staff members felt low job satisfaction, nearly everyone provided concrete ideas for new projects and systems improvements. The nature of fundraising itself requires adaptability and creativity; why not translate those skills towards team building and collaboration? Creative people find work most rewarding when there is room for innovation and they can think critically in a positive way. Development offices that provide an outlet for that energy and allow staff members to work together and lead change within a program (within reason of course) foster a more rewarding environment for employees. The nice side effect of this practice is you often see improvements in structures and efficiency as well as build rapport between teams.

What do you think? What do you think drive development officer performance?

Four qualities of strong potential development officers

In a previous post we discussed how frequently fundraisers do not fall into an even bell curve. It’s very difficult to find and keep those frontline fundraisers who excel and consistently bring in big gifts. A good first step in the process is thinking critically about how to identify a potential star fundraiser in the first place.


There are four consistent, personality-based attributes that make individuals more successful fundraisers:

  • Strong communication skills: from picking up the phone to in person calls to drafting acknowledgement letters to preparing leadership for prospect meetings a fundraiser needs to excel at communication. Think about the sort of person who can talk about almost any topic – the individual who always finds something interesting to say. While communication skills can be taught and improved to a certain extent, those who have a natural inclination will always be a step ahead. Do not underestimate writing skills in this area as well. Written outreach and engagement with prospects will be included in almost any cultivation strategy and a poorly written or impersonal message can do more damage to a relationship and be harder to redress than a stutter in person.
  • Independence: We like to talk about fundraising teams a lot. And, while development operations/advancement service, support staff, and management do provide huge contributions to the fundraising process, much of frontline fundraising is one-on-one. A development officer is frequently the only person in the room with a prospect. Moreover, no matter how many KPIs (key performance indicators) or metrics that a manager might set ultimately it is the DO that controls the management of her fundraising portfolio as well as scheduling and outreach to prospects. Effective fundraisers thus tend to be fairly independent and self-motivated. They should be comfortable with and capable of making strategic decisions while working with prospects without second guessing themselves or choosing inaction. (We can talk later about the fine line between finding independent workers and having to deal with fundraisers who take it too far and “go rogue”).
  • Perceptiveness: The ability to read people and situations can never be underestimated. The entire discovery process is devoted to discovering information about/inclination of a prospect, and fundraisers can expect at least half of those details to come from non-verbal cues (indicators of wealth and interests from home/office decor, comfortable body language, excitement and allusions to interesting projects, etc.). Fundraisers then must be both strong talkers as well as engaged listeners and observers. They should be able to come out of a meeting able to not only recap the conversation that transpired but also estimate the prospect’s reactions to the meeting and have a sense of what would be the most effective next step.
  • Versatility: Meetings with prospects can happen anywhere; the ideal setting is one where the prospect is at ease. Fundraisers must therefore be able to blend in at everything from sports events to hunting lodges to black tie events. This does not just apply to wardrobe. An fundraiser’s ability to adapt to the conversation topics and situations at hand help to create a bond with a prospect as well as demonstrate the value that your organization places on donors’ time and interests. While some content can be taught (understanding high level finance for example is usually vital for principal donors) the best fundraisers are those that can translate such knowledge readily towards enriching interesting conversations and scenarios.

The truth of the matter, however, is that innate ability and personality only gets fundraisers so far. The attributes above must be matched with a certain set of behaviors and management structures in order to create a top performer.  There are many people with all four attributes who never progress beyond being mediocre development officers. In the next posts we will talk about the behavior that sets the best fundraisers apart as well as the structures that encourage accomplishment.



Want to learn more? Part II (Five behaviors of top fundraisers) and Part III(Six best practices top development shops offer to set fundraisers up for success)  are now up!