Especially in small and even mid-sized organizations, there’s a perception that development is a support function–those are the people that set up those annoying auctions, and that know when the proposal is due.

Never doubt it, development is a core activity of your nonprofit endeavor, and there’s a reason we don’t just call it “fundraising” anymore.

I’ve seen it again and again. Development staff taking the brunt of staff reductions, budget cuts, and having key capabilities and functions moved to other departments. Many organizations isolate their development staff, keeping them away from board meetings, relegating them to behind the scenes at events (better not let them meet the donors!), excluding them from departmental meetings and decisions, and handing them the marketing plan as a done deal, if they bother to share it at all.

Your development staff (even if it’s just one person) needs to know what’s going on. If they don’t know about the cool new program you’re developing, they’re not going to be on top of the foundations who are funding programs like that. Further you are not going to know what the funders are saying about programs like those. If the development publications use one language, and the marketing pieces use another, you’re sending a fragmented message to the world, which doesn’t think of you as “Marketing for Organization X” or “Development for Organization X” but rather, simply as “Organization X.”

Keeping development staff away from board and donors is an even more puzzling approach. I believe this comes from a misunderstanding of the concept of “peers soliciting peers,” which only means that the actual ask may need to come from someone giving at a similar level (although even that is not quite as cut-and-dried as it sounds). But the ask is only one part of the fundraising equation. In a small shop, if the only people doing donor identification, acquisition and stewardship are the board president and the executive director they are first, going to burn out really fast, and second, get annoyed when the development staff must be constantly corrected because “you can’t seat Sue next to Brian, because his brother just fired her first cousin.” If your development person doesn’t know this sort of thing, through contact with the donor, you’re going to spend all your time rewriting letters, putting out fires, and picking up the pieces.

Splitting off functions is an even worse idea. The intern is not the person to be writing blog posts about sponsors. The box office doesn’t have time to personalize thank you letters. The Artistic Director does not know how to write about the play so that a foundation finds it interesting.

Finally, your development person is in that field because they are proselytizers. They want to sell preach your cause. Raising money is the icing on the cake–there’s not a successful development officer in the world for whom the job starts, or stops, with the check. The check is just evidence of a convert.

Don’t hide the development department. Put them front and center. And starting cashing checks.

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