Re-Defining Development


Apr 2, 2014

Many development departments in  non-profits are understaffed, overworked, and many times not as effective as they can be due to the hard results sought after by the Executive Directors and Board of Trustees.  In fact, too often development has become synonymous with fundraising; and although fundraising is an important part of it, it is not the whole of it.

The origin of the word develop interestingly means to “unroll, unfold”. defines develop in one sense as “to bring out the capabilities or possibilities of; bring to a more advanced or effective state”.  Obviously, to be sustained, grow and expand, non-profits rely on generous donations from fundraising efforts.  However, if all you did was fundraising, then the department should be called “fundraising department” not the development department.  Non-profits need to get back to understanding that the development department is also about developing the donors not just fundraising from them. To do this effectively requires nurturing and effective communication to help unfold the vision of the organization to their donor base and to develop the donors into partners who help make the vision of the organization a reality.

When one really considers developing donors one has to first look at their current base and ask themselves if they have really focused on developing donors throughout their communications.  It is well documented that it costs less to retain donors or re-acquire donors then to get new donors.  In fact, for every 10% increase in your donor retention, it has been shown to double the lifetime value of your donors!  Therefore when we look at how to effectively create donor development communications – you want to first look internally at your own list before looking at how to develop prospective donors in acquisition. The most effective development departments are those that focus not just on the “ask” but on the effective nurturing communications that help build a deeper trust relationship between the donor and the organization.

It would be fantastic if every non-profit can just focus on personally connecting with every donor – yet for many non-profits, once your donor base gets to be a few hundred and up it becomes difficult to connect personally with all of them so donors get prioritized and the majority begin receiving more “mass appeals” only asking for money.  However, with today’s technology, non-profits can – and should – use their “mass communication campaigns” to still personally communicate and develop their donor base beyond the standard ask for money.  Today’s technology allows you to create and execute very personal and targeted communication in direct mail, email, web, even video communications. Properly executed campaigns can help uncover additional new data insights into your donors as well as potentially provide filters as to who might be the potential to be a major donor for your organization.

There needs to be a reset button pressed with most non-profits, turning their focus away from creating mass “asks”, but on utilizing today’s technology to help create a deeper relationship and provide a more developed donor (and donation).  By putting in place a program where your “mass” communication is more personalized, it can help free up human capital to focus on major donors.  Redefining development to be about both donor relationship growth that in turn helps create the growth of the non-profit helps provide a more sustainable, long term foundation for the growth of the non-profit organization.

Throughout this fundraising category we will be sharing our insights into helping you develop your donors and continue to grow your organization.

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