Development Dysfunction

A just released report from Compass Point, Underdeveloped, A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising relates—unsurprisingly—that fundraising and fundraisers are not experiencing success.  Moreover, nonprofit leaders are unhappy with the people they hire, who in turn, are not happy with their organization’s leaders. Well, duh.

This is nothing new, nor am I saying this study didn’t need to be done.  It’s not and it did.  Too many people think of fundraising as (a) something someone else needs to do and (b) that raising money is a homogenous task and one person can do it all.  If you’ve ever looked at development director job descriptions you’d know exactly what I mean.

When I was Dean for External Relations at a community college, wearing many hats including being the only person responsible for fundraising—a task that I could develop 15 or 20 seconds to each week—the college president opined that we should invite Steve Sample, then President of USC, to tell us how he raised so much money.  Talk about duh.  How about the army of gift officers—people with the luxury to only think about raising a certain type of gift for a particular program or school, with a lot of support?

And then there is the hiring committee—often made up of people with no frontline fundraising  experience.  Because they have no understanding of the job, they frequently cull out the wrong resumes, ask ridiculous questions, and hire the person they think is the most “personable” rather than the one who will be most able to raise funds sustainably for the organization.

One of the most important things this report highlights is the absolute lack of a culture of philanthropy in most organizations.  It’s something I’ve been talking about and giving workshops on, and the lack of such a culture is a huge concern among development professionals.  Organizations that value philanthropy resource their development departments adequately so the job can be done well.  They ensure not just that there is enough professional staff but that the staff members are adequately supported.  There is also an organizational-wide understanding that fundraising is everyone’s responsibility because fundraising is primarily about building relationships and ensuring that potential donors become connected and existing ones know that they are valued.

Perhaps more to the point—in organizations with a culture of philanthropy, development officers know they are valued and that knowledge will make them work harder, smarter, and more effectively.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations helping them to build a culture of philanthropy and increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free newsletter.