Guest Post From CompassPoint: Seeking to Understand the Role of Fundraisers

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

MarlaAs soon as we hit “send” we knew we were onto something. 

CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund just launched a national survey exploring the role of development in nonprofits. The purpose of the research is to better understand the unique challenges of fundraisers and learn more about the issues that are contributing to high turnover in this critical leadership position.

The survey, aimed at development leaders and the executive directors who work with them, is being distributed across the country by over 20 foundation and capacity building partners.  Just as soon as the survey launched we started to hear from people—lots of people—reaching out to air their frustration, share stories, but also to thank us for asking the right questions.

So what exactly is touching a nerve? Here are a few of the voices from my inbox:

Thank you for taking on this important work…I’m retiring at the end of this year and the board has formed a transition team to prepare the search for a replacement. The survey brought up a lot of specific points about executive director and development director roles that the board needs to understand.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool development associate. The only thing I want to direct is the traffic between my ears. However, you could not hope for a better right hand to carry out your plans if you ARE a director….I am writing to tell you that I BURN to know why the position of development director has the occupational hazard of stressaholocism… You want to hear from development directors? I think they need to hear from us.

Having been both an executive director and a development director, I find that the development role is far more stressful, requiring God given intuitiveness and a very unique set of sales skills typically learned best in the for-profit world.  And in the for-profit world, one is both praised and paid for success. There is unfortunately a different approach when it comes to nonprofits. I believe that this is one of the main reasons for the incredibly high turnover in development personnel. I hear about it weekly as development directors determine that it is a thankless job for what is expected and paid. 

CompassPoint's “on-the-ground" research methodology, combined with our ability to move quickly to address emerging sector issues, allow us to identify and explore the leadership and management topics that will be useful to nonprofits now. This project, modeled after our executive director leadership series Daring to Lead (which significantly influenced how the sector understands leadership and supports executive directors) promises to make a similar contribution.  And like all of our research, we ensure its relevance by engaging sector experts, choosing the right partners, and listening deeply to nonprofit leaders. 

That’s where you come in. 

1. Participate in the Survey—if  you are a senior-level fund development staff or an ED/CEO who works with one you can participate in this important research effort by completing this short online survey by the end of June.  If you do not meet either of these criteria, please forward this to other people inside or outside your organization who do.  

2. Share your Stories—to complement the survey data we are looking for “bright spot” successes and nightmarish lessons learned. If you want to share your stories please contact me.

We look forward to hearing from you and sharing the research findings with you later this year.


~Marla Cornelius, Senior Project Director, CompassPoint