Developing Development Director

Dear Kim:

I am the first development director for a full-service humane society that has been operating for 125 years, and I have been on the job less than a year. We have a $1. 5 million budget ($500,000 coming from a county contract). We have always operated in the black, but unfortunately, not much analysis and goal setting have ever been done. There is no strategic plan in place, and we are heading into a capital campaign to build a new shelter and have many needs on the horizon. To top it off, the Executive Director is also new, and we are both working fast and furiously to evaluate as much as we can and to get a plan in place. I have been working on an overall development plan and the article, “Creating a Budget for Fundraising” is very helpful. However, do you know if there are specific percentages or guidelines as to how much the development office should raise in relation to the overall budget? For instance, when I worked in fundraising at an independent school, I raised 6-7 percent of the total budget. That was fairly average at that time. Because there has been little tracking and overall analysis, I realize that we are going to need to look at each direct mail piece, each special event to create budgets and to determine overall purpose. Any help you can give is appreciated!

—Searching for the Purrfect Percentage


Dear Purrfect:

I love your eagerness and enthusiasm, but my first piece of advice would be slow down and look at the place you are working. It never had a development director until you, it does not have (and may never have had) a strategic plan, and has never done any analysis of its fundraising. YET, it has stayed in the black for 125 years! I would look at what they have done right all this time and keep doing that. You may be making your job much harder than it needs to be. As for what you should be in charge of raising, generally the development office coordinates all the fundraising that is needed. In this case, it looks like you would coordinate raising $1,000,000 a year. Your job is not to raise the money, but to build a team of people who raise the money. The team includes the board, other volunteers, staff members, and possibly consultants. Sometimes you may hire someone to handle direct mail or to be in charge of a big special event or to create a bequest program. It looks like there is some kind of team in place or this organization would have gone out of business long ago.

Anyone who has ever worked with me or read any of my books will know that I am in favor of planning, budgeting and evaluation. Yet, sometimes moving too quickly to change an organization’s practices can be the wet blanket over the fires of volunteer enthusiasm. Focus your planning on the capital campaign, but work with the board and volunteers for a few more months before spending so much time on planning. There may be way more planning and evaluation going on than you realize, just being done more casually than you are used to. From your description, this organization is working fine, and you and the new Executive Director can just carry it to new heights.
Good luck.

—Kim Klein