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A new path to fundraising mastery: Why–and how–to support your development talent

Because fundraising is a many-faceted endeavor, one of the most urgent challenges facing today’s development professionals is building cross-functional expertise, the kind that enables them to better serve their organizations, advance their careers, and strengthen the capacity of the sector.

To meet that challenge, GCN’s Nonprofit University is working with some of the development field’s most seasoned professionals, as well as leaders in philanthropy and academia, to set a new standard in fundraising education: the Development Institute, designed to advance the field through teaching, research, and service.

We know development professionals are charged with the high-pressure, multidimensional, and ever-urgent work of fueling the mission. They must satisfy expectations for immediate results and navigate a daunting range of practice areas, each demanding its own expertise—from grant writing to capital campaigns, event planning, major gifts, corporate and foundation relations, planned giving, online fundraising, development office management, and more.

And we know they don’t always stick around for long: It’s well documented in the research (and borne out in experience) that the average nonprofit fundraiser changes jobs every 16 months. Those departures cost the organization, both in lost productivity—diverting the attention of the CEO and other staff—and on the balance sheet. Cygnus Applied Research estimates that, on average, revenue lost in wind-down and ramp-up periods for one development director equates to 28 percent of annual fundraising goals. In addition, replacing a front-line development officer on the job for 16 months costs about 1.2 times their salary. And as seniority increases, so do the cost implications: replacing a top, executivelevel development professional and bringing their successor up to speed can cost up to nine times their salary.

Add to that the loss in donor confidence and donor conversion opportunities, bottlenecked strategies, and the diminished potential of each impacted organization, and it’s clear the affect on the nonprofit sector overall is corrosive.

Obviously, this isn’t the way anyone would prefer it to work—especially the development professionals themselves. The question is: Why is it happening, and what can we do about it?

In a 2014 Cygnus study, fundraisers were asked what motivates them to leave a job ... 79 percent cited a lack of opportunities for professional growth and skill development.

In a 2014 Cygnus study, fundraisers were asked what motivates them to leave a job. Just behind salary, the top reason given, 79 percent of those surveyed cited a lack of opportunities for professional growth and skill development.

Not every organization has the resources to compete over salary, but we can help improve the abilities and further the careers of those we count on. If we provide mentoring opportunities and leadership experiences where they can both learn and practice skills, we’ll not only advance their effectiveness, but their commitment to the organizations they work for. That’s why it is imperative for organizational leaders to make nurturing talent a priority—and also why GCN decided to launch an institute dedicated to expanding and sharpening the skillset of fundraisers at every level.

Introducing the Development Institute

GCN is excited to announce the establishment of the Development Institute (DI), a new suite of programs from Nonprofit University designed to ensure the future of the industry by formalizing the preparation and advancement of fundraising talent. To carry every fundraising professional through to the mastery of their discipline, DI will offer a continuum of training opportunities covering all aspects and experience levels—from essential skill-building in six introductory-level courses, through 21 intermediate-level courses, and in eight master-level “intensives,” designed for advanced practitioners.

To carry every fundraising professional through to the mastery of their discipline, the Development Institute will offer a continuum of training opportunities covering all aspects and experience levels.

Integral to DI will be a suite of assessment and practice support tools, currently in development, including a benchmarking tool to measure the capacity of a development office and go-to resources for strategy and daily effectiveness: on-hand checklists and solution sets, tutorials available on demand, and best-in-class case studies.

Increasing practical exposure, convening and blending perspectives, and providing a more definitive structure for progress within the profession, the Development Institute will produce highly skilled, innovative, and effective development professionals with shorter learning curves and stronger ties to others in their field.

Our First Step: Master Lessons for Seasoned Fundraisers

This year, we begin with a rollout of our eight Master-level Courses, each a 5-month program combining classroom-based symposia with the hands-on experience, “insider” insight, and skills practice necessary for development professionals to replicate sound strategy and processes in their own organizations.

Based in a methodology of experience, Master-level Courses combine full-day seminars with long-term practicums where participants put new skills to work for their nonprofits under the guidance of a master practitioner. Courses also offer encounters with top-level professionals, philanthropists, and academics, giving participants unique insight into donors, processes, senior-level management issues, and more.

Learn more here or contact Kidra Coulter at [email protected] or 678-916-3001.

Karen Beavor is president and CEO of GCN.

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