According to recent research by CompassPoint, many of the fundraising challenges facing today’s nonprofits can be linked to high turnover, in particular, with the development director position. Many nonprofits report vacancies in the position lasting for months or even years and more than half of current development directors anticipate they’ll be moving on in two years or less.  The underlying reasons for this gap are even more alarming.  It turns out that in a large percentage of nonprofits there is now a chasm that exists between the board, executive director and development teams on expectations for success.

So what can you do to ensure your development director and other staff members don’t burn out and that your team stays focused on its goals?  Well, first and foremost, get on the same page.  As the report states, “Fundraising can’t be a priority for just one individual. It has to be a priority, and a shared responsibility, for the board, the executive director and the staff alike.” This insight comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked for any amount of time in the nonprofit sector.

But, how do you get that alignment process started?  We see four specific steps that those who sit outside the norm in terms of retention should take.

  1. Make training a priority

Whether you are onboarding a new hire or promoting a long-term employee, training has to be a priority. Too often there are gaps between what a team member was hired to do, the changing needs of the organization, skill sets, and what a particular individual is actually capable of accomplishing in a given work week. In fact, only 42% of employers feel that their current employees are walking in equipped with the skills to do the job.

Take a good look at your training program. Learn to identify the gaps early and encourage staff members to speak up when they recognize a need for further training or assistance. We at iDonate noticed a lack of training when it comes to digital fundraising so we developed a Digital Fundraising Academy to help organizations acquire those skills. Encouraging staff to become CFRE’s is another way to increase your organization’s skill level. Create a culture where people feel comfortable to ask for help and give them the resources to get equipped.

  1. Build your team and your technology

Once you have the right success metrics in place, you need to consider adding other positions to help ease the burden on the development director. Depending on your organization’s size and budget, or the hiring pool in your area, outsourcing may be a more cost-effective option than a full time hire. You can often get better talent, skills, and experience from more qualified people with lower overhead than a full time employee. Outsourcing also allows you to ebb and flow as needed to fill in specific gaps that lessen the load for roles like the development director. It also gives your full time staff the freedom to delegate tasks and focus their attention where it’s most effective.

  1. Technology should help not hinder development

Development directors should have technology to support their efforts. If they don’t, you are binding them to archaic processes that detour them from an easier path to success and putting them on a fast track to burn out.

Technology should make the day-to-day easier for staff, not more difficult. Before purchasing any tech solutions, be sure you clearly understand the time constraints involved in implementation and ongoing use. There is a myriad of options to help automate fundraising, to communicate with supporters, manage donations, etc. With the rate at which new solutions are being developed, it can be difficult to navigate all the choices. The wrong choice is to implement several different solutions that each serve only one segment of your organization’s needs – your team will spend more time on training, managing, and reconciling these platforms to try to get everything to work together. Having platforms that can be integrated together or a platform that meets all of your organization’s needs and integrates seamlessly is paramount when making technology decisions.

  1. Set clear goals and expectations – and measure often

The position of development director can mean different things to different nonprofits. Be sure to set clear expectations for the job within your organization. Are you looking for someone who specializes in developing fundraising relationships? Or are they doing the job of the development director with the side job of marketing and content management duties? Define these details clearly to avoid confusion and missed goals.

It may sound elementary, but many nonprofits have been around for so long that some of best practices have fallen by the wayside: document procedures for roles, even down to the tasks to be performed – create a how-to guide for everything the job entails. This not only helps with onboarding new hires, but clarifies the expectations from all sides and helps keep the ship sailing smoothly. And be sure that you (and your staff) understand the data points that will be used to evaluate success.


The fact that nonprofits are starting to recognize their weaknesses is a good thing – it spurs change. Turnover and burnout are big problems for our sector, but we all know that happy employees don’t leave. Consider outsourcing when possible to help with execution and ease burdens on full time staff. Get up to speed with technology, truly listen to your staff members’ needs, and don’t be afraid to abandon the traditional “status quo” mentality that is plaguing so many. Your team will stick around and your organization will be able to do more good.

Ensure your development director and other staff members don’t burn out. 

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