The Right Things

“She’s not,” the Executive Director told me, “doing her job.”  The she was the development director.  The job she wasn’t doing, of course, was bringing in money.  And no wonder.  She was too busy dealing with the leaky roof and negotiating with the food service company.  Those, and other like-minded tasks, were taking up all her time. “Well, we have no one else to do that,” the ED explained.  “And she is really good at dealing with people.”  But that isn’t a great reason to use the development director to do things outside her scope of work.  Especially if you are then going to complain about it.

But as I continued talking with the ED about the job that the Development Director was or wasn’t doing, it became clear that that she was indulging in a lot of magical thinking.  It’s not that she didn’t understand what it took to raise money—though she was overly focused on writing grants and having special events—she just couldn’t compute the amount of time it took to do all those things.  There was this sense that if the development director was doing her job, money would come pouring in.

But money doesn’t come pouring in unless you are a big name brand, even if the development director is doing a fabulous job.  Your mission, wonderful as it may be, needs to be told and retold, and shown and explained.  And donors need to be able to connect the dots between what you do and what their philanthropic interests are.  And this takes time.  Time to identify and connect with prospects; get them interested and involved with your organization; time to talk with them about a gift and then time to keep them apprised of the good their gift is doing.  Leaky roofs and dealing with vendors takes time also and it is time taken from ensuring that donors and potential donors are connected to and happy with your organization.

Time alone, of course, won’t make for a successful fundraising program.  Most development directors are not well-enough connected to fill the prospect pool—or to open the doors that will begin to turn prospects into donors.  That takes a well-trained, involved, and yes, influential Board.  Ensuring Board participation is largely the job of the ED.  That, too, takes time.  Time, it appears, that most ED’s are not willing to take.

The recent “Daring to Lead” study from CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, 55% of ED’s spent 10 or less hours a month on Board activities.  This correlated with the low levels of satisfaction ED’s had with their board’s performance.  It also must negatively impact the success of the development program.

So I asked the Development Director in question whether she had explained to her ED that the time she was spending on non-fundraising issues was going to adversely affect the bottom line.  “Yes,” she said, nodding her head emphatically.  “But she doesn’t want to hear that.  She thinks that all I have to do is wave some magic wand….”  More, she told me her ED doesn’t want her “bothering the Board” about fundraising.  They don’t want to do it, the ED maintains, and that’s that.

Sometimes when I look at a small and struggling nonprofit, it is clear why they are small and struggling.  But it really doesn’t have to be that way.

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