By James D’AmbrosioJamesProfile1Twitter

The results of a first-ever national study of executive directors and development directors by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services  and the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, found that a significant portion of nonprofits are caught in “a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed.” Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, collected survey data from 2,700+ executive directors and development directors across the U.S., and 11 focus groups in four regions of the country comprised of ED’s, development directors and board members.

“This study shows that the fundraising problems facing nonprofit organizations are more extensive and more entrenched than anyone imagined,” noted Jeanne Bell, CEO of CompassPoint and co-author of the study. She continues: “As a sector, we need to elevate the importance of fund development as a leadership issue, invest in a stronger talent pool, and strengthen the ability of nonprofits to develop the systems that enable fundraising success.”


The major findings of the study are as follows:

1) REVOLVING DOOR: Agencies rely heavily on the development director for fundraising, but there’s high turnover and lengthy vacancies for the position.

2) HELP WANTED: Agencies cannot find enough quality prospects to fill development director positions. Top executives cited problems with performance and lack of basic fundraising skills from key development staff.

3) IT’S NOT JUST ONE PERSON: In addition to creating a position for development director and hiring a strong applicant, agencies and their executives need to build the capacity, systems and culture promoting successful fundraising. Findings revealed that many agencies aren’t doing this.

4) BREAKING THE CYCLE: The study presents urgent calls-to-action for the nonprofit sector, indicating important steps nonprofit executives, funders and sector leaders should consider as they begin addressing challenges outlined in the report.

5) BOTTOM-LINE FINDING: While there’s significant problems in the role of development director across the industry, there’s deeper issues undermining agencies’ ability to raise the necessary funds to achieve success.


The study describes 10 steps agencies can take to address the problem:

1) Embrace fund development | 2) Elevate the field of fundraising  | 3) Strengthen and diversify the talent pool | 4) Train boards differently | 5) Apply the transition management framework to the development director position |  6) Invest strategically in grantee fundraising capacity | 7) Leverage technological innovation — embrace creativity | 8) Set realistic goals for development | 9) Share accountability for fundraising results | 10) Exercise fundraising leadership.


For some readers — executive directors, development professionals and those in management — this problem is not news. But pinpointing the nature and extent of the problem and offering ideas for effectively dealing with it is invaluable. Increasing awareness is often the first step in solving many types of problems. I encourage readers to read the full report and see what ideas/suggestions might help their organization.




A) What other ideas do you have for dealing with fundraising challenges?


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