3 Questions To Regularly Ask Your Development Director
By Nell Edgington
Beyond the mistakes nonprofit leaders often make in staffing their fundraising function, the relationship itself between a nonprofit executive director and the development director (or whatever you call the staff person in charge of bringing money in the door) can often be fraught.
In an ideal world, the executive director and development director have a symbiotic relationship: the development director creates the overall annual financial strategy and regularly updates the executive director on where the organization is on achieving that plan, while the executive director works with higher level money prospects and marshals the board to achieve their fundraising responsibilities.
But we don’t always live in an ideal world. And sometimes, as was the case in a recent coaching session I had with a client, an executive director is in the dark about how the organization is progressing on their money raising efforts.
If that is the case in your nonprofit, here are some key questions to ask your head money raiser:
- How does the money we’ve brought in to date compare along each revenue line goal?
When you create an annual financing plan for your nonprofit (and if you don’t, get on it), you know how much of each type of revenue (individuals, foundations, corporations, government, and/or earned income) you want to come in this year. Then, at any point during the year (and at the very least monthly) you should be asking your chief money raiser, what the organization has actually raised to date for each of those categories. For example, if you are 25% through your fiscal year, but you’ve only raised 5% of your individual revenue goal for the year, that may be a red flag. At the very least it’s cause for conversation with your development director. Perhaps it’s a timing issue (you have a big fundraising campaign closer to the end of the year), and that’s fine. But as the nonprofit leader, you should be able to ask (and get a clear answer to) where the organization’s revenue raising efforts are at any point in time.
- How do the numbers and types of gifts we projected compare to what’s actually happening?
It’s not enough for a money raiser to have an overall revenue goal for each type of revenue, he also needs to break each of those revenue types down into the number and level of contributed gifts (from individuals), grants (from foundations), or contracts (from government), etc. that will contribute to each revenue line’s overall goal. For example, if your nonprofit has a $250,000 individual donor revenue goal, your development director needs to break that down into the various levels of donors that will make up that $250,000 over the course of the year. You may have both major (one-to-one relationships) and smaller (many-to-one relationships) individual donors. He should project how many donors at each level he will need to hit each part of the individual donor goal. Then he can report to you (again, on at least a monthly basis) how that is progressing. A simple example of such a report (he would fill in the pink areas prior to each update) might look like this:
And he should create a similar report for the other revenue lines (corporations, government, foundations, etc.) that your nonprofit pursues. The actuals will never completely match what you projected, but this exercise gives you a way to uncover and deal with surprises as they come.
- What keeps you up at night?
Finally, the raw data is not enough. You also want to understand where your development director sees real problems. When you regularly ask this question she may reveal that the board is not opening enough doors, or her database is inadequate, or the website is not where it needs to be, or her grantwriter needs more help. Then you can strategize together how to overcome those hurdles.
A regular, honest, and data-driven conversation between executive director and development director is the best route to fewer money surprises. And without it, a nonprofit has little hope of achieving financial sustainability .
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