Today’s post is provided by Lynda Lysakowski, ACFRE, President of Capital Venture.

As a consultant to nonprofits, my blood just boils when I am asked by executive directors or board members, “So, we are thinking about hiring a development officer, how long it will take before this person is raising more money than the salary we pay them?” This question indicates that these leaders really do not understand development or the role of a development officer in their organization.

I recently asked a group of fundraising professionals about their biggest challenge. Contrary to what I had expected, it wasn’t raising money in a challenging economic climate, or finding new donors, or even getting donors to give at higher level. It was “getting the rest of my organization (board, CEO and program staff) to understand what development staff people actually do, and getting them to support development efforts.”

This is a huge area of concern for many organizations. But, think about it, what is usually the last position filled in an emerging nonprofit organization? The program people were there first; after all, if you don’t have program, you don’t need a nonprofit. Then, as the organization grows, an executive director is appointed and a finance director hired. Often a PR or marketing person comes next, and then one day the organization grows to maturity and says it itself, we need more money to expand program, move to a larger facility, hire more program people, or whatever. So, let’s hire a fundraising staff person.

The result? Most of the people in the organization have no idea what “development” actually means. Nonprofit leaders must understand that it is called “development” for a very good reason—it often takes years to develop relationships with major donors. These donors can be a tremendous source of support for the organization once they understand its mission and are ready to become investors in its vision. The organization’s leadership must understand that it needs to invest not just time, but money, in its development office. A good software program, professional development opportunities for the development staff, and an investment in things such as research tools and consulting and training help for the development office can reap huge rewards.

Nonprofit leadership must understand the ethics of fundraising and not expect that they can pay a development officer or a consultant on a commission basis. Furthermore, one of the most critical aspects of engaging a development officer is that this person should not be expected to “raise their salary.” Does any nonprofit ask its CFO to “cut the budget by an amount greater than his or her salary,” or tell program directors that they need to “bring in program fees equal to or more than their salary?” I have never hear anyone expect this from anyone else in the organization, and yet, so often they think in these terms when engaging a development officer. They need to, instead, look at the ROI (Return on Investment) that a professional development officer can bring to the organization.

And, finally, leaders must understand that donors will expect the organization’s leadership to be involved in the fundraising efforts, both with their own financial commitment and in the process of identifying, cultivating, and soliciting donors. The development officer is there to coordinate the effort, create the development plan, and prepare the leaders for success, but leaders must get involved in the process themselves if the organization is to succeed in its fundraising program.

A few tips I’ve found helpful for nonprofit leaders:

  • Make sure the development person reports directly to the CEO and is part of the management team.
  • The development officer needs to have a good working relationship with the CFO and the CFO must understand the role of the development officer.
  • The development officer should be given time at departmental staff meetings to talk about the role of development, how it helps the organization fulfill its mission, and how the rest of the staff can help development efforts.
  • CEOs and board chairs must support attendance of development staff at board meetings and assure that the chief development person is the liaison to the development committee of the board.
  • Boards and organization leadership should seek guidance from an expert if they are not certain of their role in the fundraising program.

For more tips on how the executive director and board can support development efforts, including a Philanthropic Assessment Form to evaluate our organization’s philanthropic profile, visit

Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Linda is President/CEO of Capital Venture, a full service consulting firm with offices throughout the United States.  Linda is one of fewer than 100 professionals worldwide to hold the Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive designation. In her seventeen years as a philanthropic consultant, Linda has managed capital campaigns ranging from $250,000 to over $30 million; helped dozens of nonprofit organizations achieve their development goals, and has trained more than 16,000 professionals in all aspects of development.

Linda is also a prolific writer and Wiley Press has published her books, Recruiting and Training Fundraising Volunteers in 2005, The Development Plan in early 2007. Linda is a contributing author to The Fundraising Feasibility Study—It’s Not About the Money, also published by Wiley in early 2007 and her latest book, The Essential Nonprofit Fundraising Handbook, was published in July 2009 by Career Press. Linda’s first eBook, Everything You Wanted to Know about Capital Campaigns is available on her website and she is currently working on several more books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *