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  • Marty Zimmerman

Development Staff: An Endangered Species Pt. 2

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Two polar bear cubs as an example of an endangered species

Where have all the good Development Directors gone?

In our last blog, I discussed how Development Directors started to leave the nonprofit sectors as a result of the nonprofit Baby Boomers. Gen X-ers chafed in the environments they worked in due to unrealistic expectations, and many of them left the field to work in for-profits. Economic and market conditions have also played a significant role.

Every time there has been a significant downturn in the economy, a plethora of new nonprofits are created by those who were laid off. This happened when Denver experienced an economic downturn in the oil industry in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as well as the economic recession in the late 2000’s. These newly created organizations had high levels of duplication of services, served very specific populations, and led to Colorado having one of the highest per-capita rates of nonprofits in the U.S. This has led to significant fundraising competition for Colorado nonprofits, as the number of major donors has not increased at the same rate.

Since Colorado has a high per-capita rate of nonprofits, these organizations are frequently looking for qualified fundraising and development candidates. A fundraiser must know how to manage a donor relationship in addition to having a diverse set of skills that includes writing, marketing, managing, and soliciting, all while under immense pressure. Executive Directors (EDs) and board members also expect them to raise inordinate amounts of money from donors who are being solicited by dozens of other organizations. All of this is done at a comparatively low pay rate. Work-life balance is nearly impossible in these positions, as there are many night meetings and events they are expected to attend.

With such a cutthroat market, high expectations, and the need for such a varied skill set, the number of candidates who meet all of these requirements is very low. As Baby Boomer EDs/CEOs retire, successful fundraisers are moving into top leadership positions, making the pool even shallower. Thus, the demand is greater than the supply.

To top all of this off, the gap in communications styles between Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers widens to a canyon when it comes to the differences between Baby Boomers and Millennials, who, by nature, are more loyal to themselves than to a specific company.

Desperate nonprofits are forced into making difficult decisions. Organizations can:

1.Post for a position and hire someone who has jumped from organization to organization.

2.Take someone from another industry (marketing professionals are most common) and hope the person learns sales and other skills.

3.Poach people from other nonprofits.

4.Promote people from within who do not have the desired experience or skill set and hope they can learn.

Within 15 months:

1.The jumpers look to jump again.

2.Most of the marketing people sink and don’t swim.

3.Those who were poached and are really good are approached by a handful of new organizations to join them.

4.Those promoted from within realize that the nonprofit got a bargain by promoting them without raising their salaries to market rates, and they often look to jump.

This shortage of development leadership is also trickling down into other development positions.

This is the second post in a five-part blog series that explains the cracks in personnel systems of nonprofits and how to address the lack of qualified, long-term development staff.

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