Building a Winning Fundraising Department

Amanda Robey, Vice President

Which comes first? The money or the fundraiser?

This is the conundrum of many nonprofits. In order to raise more money, we need to hire talented staff. But in order to afford new staff, we first need to raise more money!

Many development offices have insufficient infrastructures to cultivate and solicit major donors. They lack experienced fundraisers, efficient research and tracking technology and compelling marketing materials. It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. By wisely investing in human capital, an organization of any size can transform its fundraising department into one that raises many more times its current annual budget.

Here are some benchmarks for a winning fundraising team:

Small or Start-Up Organizations

You’re more likely to use consultants than full-time staff. Be sure you have a clearly defined scope of work (for example, will the consultant solicit gifts or just provide counsel?). If you hire a full-time person, recognize that he or she will need to spend a significant portion of time managing fundraising operations. This includes writing proposals, researching prospects and overseeing mailings. Most donor meetings and asks will remain the responsibility of the CEO.

Tip: Don’t assume one consultant or employee has the skills to do every facet of fundraising.

Growing Organizations

Your growing nonprofit may have a fundraising team that includes a director of development assisted by one or more major gift officers and administrative staff.

  • Train and retain. Invest in building the team’s skills and knowledge. Find ways through bonuses and other means to minimize staff turnover.
  • Budget for administrative support. According to a series of interviews conducted by A.C. Fitzgerald & Associates, nonprofits require 1.2 support staff for every one full-time major gift officer.
  • Set clear metrics. A full-time major gift officer can be expected to raise 3.5 times his salary within the first year. According to the Institute for Charitable Giving, this amount should increase significantly each year, plateauing in year four.

Tip: Nonprofits should have one full-time development person for each $1-$1.5 million of contributions revenue.

Established Organizations

With a larger budget, you can add positions that manage specialty areas. Revenue sources such as foundations, corporations, online, direct mail and events will increase from more focused attention.

  • Invest in excellence. It may be a stretch to hire top-quality fundraisers. However, consider the short- and long-term value of this added expertise. One major gift may more than pay for the increased salary costs.
  • Establish caseloads. A full-time major gift officer can be expected to manage the cultivation and solicitation of 100-125 donors.
  • Focus on core activity. Outsource those tasks (such as direct mail, research, grantwriting) that will free staff time to devote to building and maintaining donor relationships.

Tip: Create time for more staff interaction and communication, especially if team members work in multiple locations.

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