“You see, we have not been able to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for more than a year since I refused the post to Lord Voldemort.” —Albus Dumbledore
Have you ever wondered about that one position in your organization that seems to be a portal of sorts, depositing new faces into the office at a mildly alarming pace? Hmm. Why doesn’t any one person seem to hold it for very long? Why is that the only door in the office without a nameplate? What departmental antics could possible result in these once fresh-faced hires briskly stepping out the door one day never to return, nor be spoken of again?
In the Harry Potter series, a position at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is supposedly cursed by the evil wizard Lord Voldemort after he was passed over for the post. Those who hold it do so only briefly, all leaving (some more permanently than others) by the end of the term year. In J.K. Rowling’s tale, that position is the Defense Against the Dark Arts (DADA) professor. In the nonprofit sector, it’s the development director.
Ok, the comparison may be a bit of a stretch, but surely I am not the first to see the connection? Actually, considering the findings of a study (a joint venture between CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund) that pinpoints some disturbing trends in development comings and goings, there may be more similarities between the DD’s and the DADA’s than not. The report, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, identifies 3 hefty issues around securing and retaining development professionals,
- Turnover. Sadly, a high turnover rate is the rule rather than the exception in development. The average period of time a fundraiser holds a position is 16 months, not too much longer than the tenure of our fictitious DADA instructors. Unlike the professors, however, fundraisers tend to leave for salary and promotion concerns rather than because they are a werewolf or have a cell awaiting them at Azkaban prison. Thank goodness for that.
- Poor credentials or just a bad “fit”. Finding qualified, experienced candidates is not an easy task. Professor Gilderoy Lockhart shamelessly padded his wizardry skills to get the DADA gig (he ended up irreparably wiping out his memory due his lack of expertise – imagine your insurance provider’s response to that claim). A more likely scenario for a nonprofit – your dream development director’s resume of degrees, skills and accomplishments does not translate into similar outcomes at your nonprofit. Where was the disconnect?
- A lack of organization capacity and culture to achieve fundraising goals. The study found that 20% of nonprofits don’t even have a donor database. What? It’s 2013! Even the ill-fated professors had both cultural and systemic supports in place at Hogwarts. If nonprofit executives welcome their new development directors with a tour that ends with the equivalent of “Here is your office, we’ll be expecting your plan tomorrow and a full turnaround by next Tuesday,” well, is anyone surprised at the turnover rate?
Obviously the development director position isn’t really cursed, but it certainly has a set of challenges unique from others in nonprofit management. It may even be the most difficult position for a nonprofit to successfully fill. Why is that and can that reality be changed?