Donors Forum + AFP-Chicago Event Provides a Local Perspective on the National Conversation on Nonprofit Fundraising Challenges

Thursday, May 30, 2013


A newly released study by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, called UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, observes and analyzes some of the obstacles that threaten the ability of nonprofits to find success in fundraising. Donors Forum, in partnership with AFP-Chicago, offered a program on May 22 in which Marla Cornelius (pictured), Senior Project Director at CompassPoint and co-author of the study, shared insights and led a discussion on the issues raised by the study. The study shows that many nonprofits face instability in the development director role, including long vacancies, frequent turnover, and difficulty finding qualified applicants. Marla explained that the study found that many nonprofits struggle with these issues partly because of the difficulty in creating a “culture of philanthropy” across their organization.  Symptoms of this “cultural” problem may include a disengaged board, and/or weak relationships between staff leaders. These challenges create a cycle that organizations must work to break. Marla concluded by suggesting ten possible “Calls to Action” that can address these issues including training boards differently, and embracing transition management and sharing accountability. The full list of CompassPoint’s Calls to Action may be found in the report.

Also speaking at the event was Marian Alexander DeBerry, Director of Executive Search at Campbell & Company, who shared highlights from a recent study sponsored by her firm, CDO Confidential: What CDOs Want You to Know About Retention. The Campbell & Company study focused on Illinois nonprofits and reached similar conclusions to the CompassPoint study. Marian added perspective to the discussion on development directors by detailing reasons for turnover, including the lack of understanding of development from other staff, insufficient resources, and lack of board support.

Roundtable discussions around a variety of related topics allowed participants to identify their organization’s personal fundraising challenges and brainstorm ways in which to improve weaknesses. Many felt as though the best way to improve fundraising is through an increased engagement of board members and CEOs, and aimed to do so through education and creating a more active role for the board. A panel discussion and Q & A session, in which Marla and Marian were joined by Carolyn Nopar, Director of Development for Family Focus and Mimi Rodman, Executive Director of Stand for Children Illinois, allowed individuals to get expert opinions on obstacles and potential solutions for their organizations. Attendees were able to get personal insights from the speakers regarding their reports and hear perspectives from multiple nonprofit staff positions.

Solutions raised included adapting to for-profit staffing models that can prepare organizations for this new standard, creating a culture of philanthropy within the organization in which all components are tied to a strong central mission, and shifting fundraising to a nonprofit-wide responsibility, rather than a task for solely the director of development. One attendee who works as a fundraising consultant presented the idea of “project management engagements,” which she said are “less than interim staffing, but helps an executive director maintain momentum when and if there is no development staff.”

At the end of the event, Marian challenged the audience with the provocative hypothetical, “What if the 16-24 month [tenure] is the new norm for development officers? What changes do we need to make in order to best utilize that time?”

Download the full UnderDeveloped report here.

Download the full CDO Confidential report here.

View pictures of the event here.

 ~Rebecca Jackson, Communications and Development Volunteer