Countless publications address effective office and management structures, and the model you choose will be dependent on many factors, such as the size of your team, its position in the institution’s overall management structure, the culture of your organisation and your strategic goals.
Before you determine the exact structure, consider some basic principles that have particular relevance for development offices.
The route to the top
As the director of development, the people to whom you report – directly and indirectly – should already be established. However, you should also ensure that there is a regular, direct communication route to the institution’s leader and that you fully understand the vision and priorities set by the leader.
For an institution’s development office to succeed, it needs access to the institution’s leader as well as his or her backing, involvement and leadership. The leader is a member of the development team rather than someone who is drafted in on an ad hoc basis to host events and meet donors.
Make sure there are also clear guidelines on interacting with other leadership, boards and senior members of staff.
The director of development
As the director of development, you are responsible for:
Setting the strategy (based on the vision and priorities set by the institution’s leader) and initiating and maintaining its implementation,
Directing the team’s activities,
Managing the resources and budgets and
Ensuring that targets are met, legal and financial obligations are complied with and the fundraising cycle runs smoothly for the prospects.
This role is complex and challenging, and it demands good leadership skills and an ability to maintain momentum and not to lose sight of the long-term goals. It is the central function of the development office.
In most offices, directors of development are also likely to be active fundraisers, managing their own portfolio of high-level prospects.
Broadly speaking, development work can be split into two types of functions: operational activities and external relations. Your office's structure should be flexible enough, however, so that it can easily change and adapt as activity develops.
Covering the Basics: Operational Activities
Prospect research and data management
Prospect research and data management are cornerstones of the office structure. You cannot fundraise without good data that is effectively managed and continually improved.
Equally important is comprehensive research to successfully prioritise prospects. In many start-up operations, these responsibilities fall to fundraising staff initially but are usually transferred to a more junior staff quite quickly.
Administration and finance
The development office’s administration and financial accounting activities need to be exemplary in order to ensure legal and financial obligations are met as well as to instil confidence with donors. Whilst this function may not require a dedicated post at the beginning (especially if the finance office has the capacity to take on the majority of financial accounting activities), assigning responsibility for this area should be a priority.
Doing the Business: External Relations
Fundraisers can only function at full efficiency if they have the backup of someone handling prospect research and data management as well as good administrative and finance systems. Only with these in place can they completely dedicate themselves to building up a sustainable income stream.
Whether alumni relations is a part of the development office or a separate office within the institution, the development office will typically need a staff person focused on linking fundraising and alumni activities. Alumni are top donor prospects. Good data and prospect management, regular communications and activities and a clear fundraising strategy focused on this group are critical.
Whilst this is not common in the UK or United States, some development offices in developing countries are introducing project officers to monitor the implementation of philanthropically funded projects. Your institution’s reputation with donors will rely on its ability to do what it said it would, when it said it would. Therefore, you may want to consider having someone:
Work with the finance office to ensure funds are released in a timely manner,
Monitor the progress of project implementation against agreed timelines and milestones,
Act as an intermediary between different parts of the institution if there are hold-ups or delays,
Measure and document the impact of your work,
Provide project updates for donor reports and
Contribute to developing new proposals.
Room to Specialise
Once these basic functions are in position, the office structure can expand to embrace specialists in the different donor categories, which are outlined in section 7.
Making It Work
Whatever structure you choose, it will only work if each team member understands how his or her role interacts with other roles. Fundraisers need to be free to fundraise and respect the ability of other colleagues to take responsibility for tasks such as prospect research and gift processing. Operational staff members need to appreciate that updated data and smooth operations are essential to support the work of fundraisers and leadership.
If you have a limited staff budget, then concentrate on filling the key roles first before expanding the team. It is better to grow a team in incremental steps so that new staff can be properly managed and inducted into their new roles.
Smaller teams might also want to consider outsourcing some aspects of their activities, especially in the early years. This might mean engaging freelance proposal writers or prospect researchers, using agencies to support communications or outsourcing data management to a third party. However, be cautious when outsourcing fundraising activities: your donors should always have a direct relationship with staff at the institution. Make sure you have an exit strategy. And always try to leverage the capacity and skill of other departments/offices.
Determine the fundraising strategy and priorities, as well as the roles and relationships with other departments, before you commit to an office staffing structure (and budget for this structure if possible).
Think about the short- and long-term when charting out your structure. How will you build upon your initial team? How will you incorporate activities that other departments and consultants may initially take care of as development endeavours expand?
Success in development relies on recruiting the right people into the right positions.
There is always risk associated with recruiting new staff, but you can minimize this risk with careful thought about the office structure (and how it will develop over time), staff roles, characteristics and expectations – and how your structure and staff will realistically meet your strategic goals.
Understanding Qualifications That Match Your Office Structure
As you determine your office structure and the specific activities that you want each staff position to accomplish, make sure you are thinking about the different qualifications and characteristics needed for the two major aspects of development work:
For external relations (e.g., fundraising, alumni relations, events organisation, business development and communication), qualified candidates should be good listeners and conversationalists. They need to be interested in other people and able to communicate engagingly on a wide range of topics and with a diverse range of people. They need an ability to manage multiple relationships at a high level and also a great memory for detail. They should be diplomatic and socially confident. They also need to have the courage to be able to make ‘the ask’ and the finesse to know when to make it.
For operational activities (e.g., data management, financial processing, prospect research and administration), qualified candidates are technically skilled, process driven and with excellent organisational skills that can cope with large volumes of information. At the same time, they need to have the sensitivity and insight to spot interesting trends and facts within the data they process and to share these with their externally focused colleagues.
These two aspects of development need to be able to work well together, under strong leadership, as a team.
Writing a Job Description and Person Specification
The more detailed and specific you can be in your job descriptions and person specifications the more likely you are to find the candidates you need. Think about what tasks you need a role to fulfill in order to meet your strategic goals, and break these tasks down into specific activities.
Person specifications should be split into the characteristics you find essential and those you find desirable. Again, the more specific you can be, the fewer unsuitable applications you will have to sift through.
Recruitment can be a daunting task. There are several places where you can find help both in formulating your recruitment strategy and in the recruitment process.
Your institution’s human resources office will be able to help you draft job descriptions, calculate appropriate levels of salary and organise the recruitment process. You can also get help from CASE, professional industry networks and specialist recruitment agencies.
If you are new to the sector, you will find it very helpful to talk with established directors of development in other institutions. They will be able to share their own experiences with you and may even agree to sit on interview panels.
Where and How yo Find Your New Staff
Development professionals come from a wide variety of backgrounds – higher education, charity sector, sales and marketing, PR and communications among others. You should look for individuals with the right skills even if they have little experience of your sector.
You can search for staff through the traditional routes of advertisement and recruitment agencies, but it is also worth working your own professional networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and relevant online discussion lists. Educational fundraising and advancement work is a global business, and it may be that you can attract strong candidates both from your own country and overseas.
Do not forget that you may have strong candidates on your own doorstep in other areas of your institution. You may be inheriting staff members who were working on development-related activities before there was an official office, or there may be staff members that are well-versed in communications or institutional operations who are looking for a new opportunity. The human resources office should be able to help you identify (or place) internal staff members into the structure and roles that you have defined.
Setting Up Your Staff for Success
To provide your staff with a strong basis from which they can succeed, ensure that honest and open discussions form part of the recruitment process. Be clear, not only about the skills desired and expectations of the role, but also about the status of development activities at the institution and resources available. Also, make sure there is an early, strong induction programme.
Determine your office structure and the specific activities that you want each staff position to accomplish. Remember to plan for the short- and the long-term.
Work closely with human resources – seeking the advice of other institutions and professionals – to clearly define the skills and characteristics of the desired of each position, recruit qualified candidates and set up a strong selection process.
Be clear about your expectations and vision for the role when hiring.
Ensure the recruitment process is followed by a comprehensive induction period.
Successful fundraisers can be difficult to find, and they are very much in demand.
When recruiting new staff you might broaden the search to include people looking to start a new career in fundraising either straight from their own education or from other sectors. These candidates will find it difficult to demonstrate any fundraising track record, so what are the fundamental characteristics you should be looking for?
Good fundraisers enjoy the company of other people and are good communicators. They are eloquent conversationalists and exceptional listeners. They can communicate not only by speaking but also in writing and through presentations. It is important that their manner is warm and engaging rather than domineering or intimidating. They need to be chameleon-like in their ability to adapt their communication style to different audiences and occasions. But beware the person who likes the sound of his or her own voice too much. A skilled fundraiser will draw prospective donors into conversation and listen intently.
Passionate, Enthusiastic, Commited to the Cause
Fundraising is about inspiring people to offer their support. Good fundraisers inspire people to give support by communicating their enthusiasm for the causes they are representing. A good fundraiser should be knowledgeable about the cause and personally convinced of its value. This passionate commitment to the cause cannot be faked. An insincere fundraiser will be an unsuccessful fundraiser.
Strategic and Innovative
Good fundraisers inspire not only prospects and donors but also the institution’s leaders and academics, and they must be innovative and strategic in channelling this inspiration into appropriate action (e.g., determining what prospect, donor, event or project could use the support of the leader/academic). Beyond engaging others, fundraisers must be innovative and strategic in prioritising prospects/donors, seeing connections and new opportunities, determining when activities can be standardized and when they need to be customized, and in their overall approach to meeting their goals.
Vigilant and Conscientiousness
Successful fundraisers are often called ‘relentless’, as they persistently pursue support for their cause. They are vigilant in maintaining contact with their prospects (often over many years before securing a significant donation), confident enough to make ‘the ask’ yet conscientious about the appropriate timing. A substantial proportion of a fundraiser’s time is spent investing in the prospect management system by writing up contact reports, logging new information and plotting links between prospects. This is a time-consuming, laborious process, but for the conscientious fundraiser it can pay great dividends.
Systematic and Organised
Established fundraisers can be managing well over 100 relationships with prospects or donors at any one time. To do this properly, they need to be systematic and organised in their approach. This is expressed through great time management, record keeping, forward planning and extremely thorough follow-up.
Optimistic, with Good Self-Esteem
It can be disheartening when a prospect says ‘no’ or a donor only gives £100 when you were hoping for £100,000, but a good fundraiser determines if the ‘no’ is really a ‘not now’ or ‘maybe another project’, and he learns from each experience, moving on with optimism undiminished and self-esteem intact. It can be difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook in the face of disappointment, but the support of colleagues in a team can be invaluable on these occasions.
Good Team Member
Fundraising is a team effort, and fundraisers need to be able to work well within a team environment.
You can see some examples of the person specifications in sample job descriptions on the CASE website.
Before hiring fundraisers for your team – or even finalizing the job description – look closely at the qualifications of successful fundraisers you have encountered, and talk with other development directors about their lessons learned.
Focus more on characteristics than on a specific type of background.
Review your fundraising strategy and the primary types of donors you are targeting to determine if there are specific characteristics that might best align with your goals.
Salary packages need to be developed in accordance with the general guidelines of your institution and be an appropriate reflection of the responsibilities of each role. There should also be equity across the development team.
When determining salary, especially as you set the overall development office budget and look at creating equity across the development team, be sure to plan forward. Forecast at least three years of potential salary adjustments, any supplemental benefits and additional staff positions to help ensure the office’s sustainability.
The human resources (HR) function of your institution can generally provide salary guidelines. CASE also provides two key industry resources to help benchmark appropriate compensation:
A salary report, produced by CASE Europe in March 2012, where 337 institutions responded that for all advancement-related disciplines, the median salary was £39,003 and mean salary was £46,106. Of the 128 respondents whose primary responsibility was development and fundraising, the median salary was £41,250 and mean salary was £45,492. CASE members can access the full results of the 2012 CASE Europe Salary Survey, where salaries are analysed by experience, age, management status, discipline, institutional characteristics, sub-areas of responsibility, etc.
Commission-based salary for fundraisers, based on a percentage of funds raised, is not recommended for a number of reasons:
Commissions can encourage inappropriate conduct by fundraisers anxious to secure gifts at any cost, whether or not those gifts meet the objectives of the institution they serve.
Commission-driven fundraisers could potentially draw salary well above an equitable level in relation to services rendered when, in the final analysis, it is the institution and not the fundraiser that both attracts and merits charitable support.
The long-term cultivation of major gifts could be jeopardised by fundraisers seeking a swift donor response to benefit their personal income goals.
Potential major donors may be discouraged when they realise that a percentage of their donation will go directly to the fundraiser.
Commission fundraising discourages the use of volunteers or other cost-effective methods that would improve your institution’s fundraising ROI.
Since charities do not know exactly what motivates a donor to make a gift, it is difficult to determine the amount of salary to which a fundraiser might be entitled under a commission/salary arrangement.
Supplemental Benefits or Bonuses
Supplemental benefits or bonuses are a form of additional, performance-based payment beyond base salary, designed to motivate and recognise positive employee performance and/or the achievement of specific goals. They can be a helpful incentive for staff but should not be given lightly.
Managers need to assess the value of the work in the context of the team-based nature of fundraising. CASE has developed a set of guidelines for institutions that wish to offer performance related bonuses:
Bonuses should not be expressed as a percentage of individual gifts or aggregate giving, since doing so would constitute a commission.
Bonuses should be based on pre-set goals that have been clearly stated and agreed-upon in advance by the employee and the institution. Note that this guideline is not intended to preclude bonuses for exceptional individual or team achievement that may be allowable under an institution's payment policies.
Goals should be related to the fundraising context, given that potential to raise funds and associated effort required may vary widely across positions and operating units.
Bonuses should not serve as a replacement for base salary or result in under-payment of employees who meet their job expectations.
Work with HR to determine general guidelines for salary packages. Resources, such as those from CASE, can provide more specific benchmarking.
Depending on your institution’s policies, you may want to consider supplemental benefits or bonuses.
Forecast beyond the current year to help ensure sustainability of the current and anticipated staff salary packages.
Performance management is not just about setting targets. It is a systematic process that includes the following components:
Planning work and setting expectations. Staff members need clear instructions about what they should be doing and what they are expected to achieve in their roles, as well as some planning time to chart out how they will actualise those expectations. The planning in turn helps their understanding and buy-in of these expectations.
Developing a person’s capacity to perform. In a start-up situation, staff members may not have all the resources, skills and information they need to perform at their best. Developing their capacity to perform is about providing them with the training, resources and experiences they need to do their jobs properly, and some autonomy to innovate as appropriate.
Continually monitoring performance. It is important to talk to staff on a regular basis about the progress they are making toward their assigned goals and to troubleshoot issues that may be affecting their performance. For example, if a fundraiser is struggling to establish a positive relationship with a significant prospect, the prospect should be reassigned to a second fundraiser to revitalise the relationship and allow the first fundraiser to focus on those relationships that are most likely to yield a return.
Regularly rating performance. Staff members need feedback on how they are doing. It is useful to periodically rate performance through appraisals and other staff management systems.
Rewarding good performance and addressing poor performance. Credit should be given for good performance; poor performance should trigger further scrutiny and useful interventions.
Performance should always relate to the overall goals for development at the institution. Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be identified by their ability to pinpoint progress toward the overall goals. It would be misleading to just have financial indicators, such as ‘amount raised’, as this would not be a true reflection of activity. A fundraiser might meet his financial target with one big gift and then be tempted to sit back and ‘coast’ for the rest of the year, as his KPI has been met.
There are also issues around the perceived potential of prospects. A fundraiser targeting well-paid professions, such as medicine or law, may have a higher chance of raising substantial funds than a fundraiser working with traditionally less well-paid professions, such as teaching and the arts.
Whilst financial targets have a place, truer indicators of staff performance are those that measure activity levels, such as:
Number of contacts with prospects,
Number of new prospects identified,
Number of asks made and
Number of gifts received.
Don’t Take a ‘One Model Fits All’ Approach
Every institution is different, and the performance management criteria you choose should reflect the individual circumstances of your institution. A well-established, large-scale development office with a substantial prospect pool might expect a major gift fundraiser to see up to 15 prospects a month and to raise between £1 million and £1.5 million a year. A small, start-up operation with a previously unengaged prospect pool must tailor its expectations accordingly.
Learn from the human resources office what staff performance management processes are institutional standards. Ask for HR’s advice on tailoring these standards to the development office.
Create a regular schedule for each stage of the staff performance process that you decide upon. For example: setting expectations will be reviewed when staff are hired and then annually; building capacity will be met through two training or professional development opportunities a year per staff; monitoring, rating and responding to performance will be assessed quarterly through one-on-one conversations, with formal ratings twice a year.
Outline the expectations and KPIs for each development staff member. Finalise these with staff members to make sure they fully understand what they are expected to achieve. Make sure they also understand the performance review process after expectations are determined.
Most institutions already have rating systems and mechanisms for rewarding good performance and managing poor performance. Your human resources office should be able to assist you in adapting these for the development team.
Recruiting and training staff can be time-consuming and costly. Therefore, investment in the retention of skilled fundraisers is an important facet of a successful development office.
There are a number of reasons why you should invest in staff retention:
Fundraising is about building long-term relationships with supporters. If staff members regularly move on, the link to supporters weakens.
Recruiting new people is difficult, expensive and time-consuming.
Higher education institutions are complex organisations that often have long histories and strong communities. It takes individuals a long time to build up the institutional knowledge that enables them to be effective fundraisers.
Team work is at the heart of successful fundraising, and high staff turnover has a negative effect on team dynamics.
The development sector is still emerging both in the UK and other countries. New, tempting opportunities are constantly arising that might lure your staff away.
Staff retention is largely a matter of best practice management techniques. To retain staff members you need to manage them well and reward them when they achieve their goals. Here are a number of suggestions around how you can retain good staff:
When planning your team consider, how its members can achieve career progression. Consider internal promotions before recruiting from outside.
Foster job satisfaction by making the parameters of an employee’s role and your expectations as an employer very clear. That way, an employee can measure her success and feel a sense of satisfaction when she achieves or exceeds goals. At the same time, you must recognise when a person has outgrown his role. Increase his responsibilities and remit to keep him challenged and interested.
Keep communication channels open. Listen to your staff members, give them feedback and make sure you keep them fully informed of developments that might affect their activities. Involve staff members in strategic planning and goal setting, especially when it may affect their personal workload.
Use staff talent where you find it. If someone is a good writer who enjoys writing, make the most of that person’s talent by directing her to projects where she can excel.
Similarly, if someone wants to gain new skills or improve an existing skill, support that person in achieving this through training, mentoring and new opportunities.
Be fair and equitable in your dealings with staff. Make sure staff members are paid appropriately for their level of work. Where possible, reward exceptional work.
Respect the experience and skills that your staff members have developed and give them opportunities to share these with colleagues.
Provide the support employees need to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Celebrate team and individual successes and develop the office ‘traditions’ that make working in a team fun and interesting.
Don’t underestimate the importance (and time) of strong staff management and retention efforts, which greatly outweigh the cost of staff turnover. Build time and specific action items into your regular activities and your formal performance assessments, as well as funds into your budget for training, professional development opportunities, etc.
Please note that the term advancement is often used when talking about fundraising in an educational context. As defined by CASE, the term encompasses alumni relations, communications, fundraising, marketing and allied areas.
Whilst this resource touches on all areas of advancement, its primary focus is on fundraising, or development. The terms development office and development director have been adopted to reflect this approach.
Many institutions have broad-based advancement offices, and the CASE website provides in-depth guidance on the wider aspects of advancement, including alumni relations, communications and marketing.