Statements fund development professionals hate to hear

Part one in a two part series.

congratsDo you wonder why you can’t keep development staff? Maybe it is “their fault.” Or maybe your expectations have people running for the door. Here is a short list of things executive directors and college presidents have been known to say that get development staff running to Do you hear yourself in these comments? What can you do to change?

  1. “Let my assistant to arrange a time for us to talk.” This is a favorite because it often takes weeks to secure an appointment.
  2. “Once you have done your homework, call me and I will close the deal.” Does this make any sense? How many nonprofit leaders are so sought after that their presence at the point of solicitation will “close the deal?”
  3. “It’s your job to raise the money.” This belief is a luxury no executive can afford. Regardless the number of development professionals employed, you are the chief fundraiser. Your staff’s ability to raise money requires your active participation.
  4. “I want you to make at least 20 calls a week. Another favorite. Who will your staff call, who will want to talk with them, and what are they calling donors about?
  5. “I want you to chair the homecoming dance committee.” There are many variations on this theme: all pull development staff away from fundraising. Unless there are clear revenue goals keep your development staff out of events.
  6. “Have you asked the board members for their gifts?” Major red flag. Expecting staff to solicit board members is a recipe for low giving. This is the responsibility of the board chair or chair of the board development committee.
  7. “You don’t need to know my travel plans.” This closes the door to fund development and fundraising opportunities. Your staff can suggest visits to current or potential major donors and influencers, help coordinate a friendraiser, or a visit to a foundation or corporation who funds nonprofits similar to yours.

Other favorites include:

  1. “I want you to raise 50% more than you did last year.”
  2. “I’m launching the campaign in spite of what the feasibility study says.”
  3. “We don’t need to be spending money on a feasibility study.”
  4. “I underestimated: we have a short fall of 20% that you will need to raise.”
  5. “I want you to represent me at the chamber meeting.”
  6. “I want you to make the case before the community foundation, I need to be at the Save the Duck conference in Idaho.”
  7. “What should be our fundraising priorities be for this year (this campaign?)”
  8. “Who were our top five donors last year?”
  9. “Send me an email about your fundraising plans.”
  10. “Tell me, who is currently on the development committee.”
  11. “I don’t want you talking to any board members.”
  12. “I need to cut the budget by 10% – that includes your department as well. And I need you to raise an additional 15%.”
  13. “I’m sorry, you will have to host our VIP guests.”
  14. “I think we can do the campaign without an increase in staff or budget.”

Statements like these drive development professionals crazy, contributing to high turnover. If you don’t know why these statements can put your organization or institution at risk ask your development staff. If you’re not that brave, ask a peer who is a successful fundraiser.

Next week: things development professionals say.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.



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