The Dance of Development

The past few days, I’ve had floaters in my eyes.  You know, those black dots that glide along at the edges of your vision, sometimes swooping in to center stage.  They are really distracting and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself concentrating on them rather than on the client in front of me. Then this morning, I was talking with a coaching client and she talked about how frustrated she was that she couldn’t seem to stay on top of her work.

“Is it me, or the nature of this work?” she asked.  “I’ve been effective and efficient, but since I started working in fundraising, I feel that I am not accomplishing what I should be.”

Floaters, I thought.  They mar your vision; make you lose sight of the bigger picture.

It is so easy, especially if you are a one-person office, to get pulled away from the really important things.  Like fundraising:  Prospecting, cultivating, soliciting, stewarding.  And while producing that flyer, entering data in the database, managing an event (one that is meant to fundraise or not), responding to Board members questions or concerns, can all be part of the fundraising process, they are not the major keys.

What can/should a poor fundraiser do?

First off is to understand that fundraising is a never-ending activity.  You will never catch up, never get to the point where it is done, never run out things that you must accomplish.  But you can make yourself far more productive by first figuring out which things are the ones that really, truly must be undertaken and completed.

Much of this you will have to work out for yourself.  But figuring this out is a great thing to do with your development committee.

I hasten to add here that the development committee is NOT (or should not be) the people on your Board who do fundraising.  That is a job for the entire Board (and they won’t do it if you don’t train, facilitate and coach them well).  The Board Development committee consists of the people with whom you work to plan the year’s development program.

If you’ve never worked with the Development Committee (or the people on this iteration of the committee) a good first step is to explain your job to them.  Not in a whining way, either.   Simply explain that your main job is to coordinate and facilitate Board fundraising.  If this is a surprise to you, it may be one reason why you are feeling so out of control in your job.  I don’t mean to sound snarky.  But, unless you are a “gift officer (whatever your real title is)” at a large organization, or are the person who reports to the development director, your most important job is to help the Board meet its fiduciary responsibilities by ensuring they have all the support they need to raise funds at your organization.

From there, explain how you spend your time and what expectations your Executive Director has of you and your position.  The purpose for this is so that the Board members understand what you can—and what you cannot—do.  I’ve had several clients where, after we went through this exercise, funds were found (and in some cases, donated by Board members) to hire additional development staff.

As you and your committee work through to create or polish a development plan, make sure that there are never statements like “We will raise….”  That is the kiss of death.  “We” always needs to have a name, and the Board needs to see how many times that “We” has your name.

There will also be things about which the Board has little information.  If, for example, you are the person who has to enter all gifts in the donor database and generate acknowledgement letters, let the Board know how many gifts that means on a weekly basis, what else is involved, and how long it takes on average to complete these tasks.

You may, as you work through this, have to dance a bit.  Both your Executive Director/CEO as well as your Board needs to feel that you are providing necessary information.  And that you are doing it in a way to ensure effectiveness and efficiency for the development program. But since that is really what you want also, it shouldn’t be too onerous to find that rhythm and make sure you are all in step.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and to build better, more involved and engaged boards.  She is the co-teacher of the online Get Grants class, and co-author of Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants.  Learn more about Janet’s consulting and training at