A Development Director Walks Into A Bar...

“You look like you need a drink, Rob,” the bartender says.

“I do,” replies the 58-year old development director for a human services nonprofit. “Our most generous donor just died, leaving her entire estate to the nonprofit—everything. I learned an hour ago it’s worth at least ten million. I had no idea she had that kind of money!”

“Wow…that’s fantastic news,” says the bartender. “So why the long face?”

“That donor was my wife!”

Ouch. Good news, bad news. Rob’s job might just have gotten a lot easier, but his personal life just took a huge dive—in more ways than one.

Rob's issues aside, if the bartender were serving a trio of development directors, what would some of their “Good News, Bad News” headlines be?

DD #1 Bad News: “My executive director was just terminated.”

DD #1 Good News: “My executive director was just terminated.”

Interpreted: Loss of the staff leader makes for headaches for everyone, especially the development and marketing staff. But maybe the organization is better off in the long run?

Recommendation: The change in top staff leadership might be for the better, but at the very least engage the staff development leadership immediately to advise and implement the thoughtful early-on and important messaging to funders.

DD #2 Good News: “My Board just created a fund-raising committee.”

DD #2 Bad News: “My Board just created a fund-raising committee.”

Interpreted: Board ownership of its fundraising responsibility is at the core of a nonprofit’s success, but it’s not uncommon for well-intended fund-raising committees to be ineffective and time consuming for staff.

Recommendation: When it comes to board-driven fund development strategies, include at the outset staff development personnel who feel safe being candid and transparent with powerful board players. The best fundraising committee is a strong and honest partnership between board and staff.

DD #3 Good News: “My Board just decided we’re doing a gala event to close our funding gap.”

DD #3 Bad News: “My Board just decided we’re doing a gala event to close our funding gap.”

Interpreted: We love the enthusiasm! Unfortunately, many boards equate special events with expanded fundraising, but that’s not always the case. Maybe a year-end campaign of individuals with the help of the board would have a better chance of success—such a campaign is probably long overdue, and would encourage 1:1 donor-relationship building.

Recommendation: For best results, always include key development staff upfront to weigh in on board fund-raising ideas and planning.

The good news/bad news litany goes on and on. It’s part of the normal life of any business—including that of a nonprofit organization. To support their development director not hanging out unduly at the above-mentioned bar, board and executive staff leadership will want to make sure the chief staff fundraiser position is one designed to provide a timely leadership voice to key organizational decisions and strategies.