Are You Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath-water? Long-term vs. Short-Term Development Success

June 21, 2009

Several years ago I had a job working in sales. Advertising sales to be exact. For a small weekly newspaper that was struggling to the point where, every payday, I’d rush downstairs to the bank housed in the building to cash my check, praying that it wouldn’t bounce.

Anyone who knows me well knows that advertising sales is one of the last things I would be involved in.

I’m painfully, genetically shy. Terrified of cold calling. And yet, within eight months and for two years straight, I was the newspaper’s top-selling advertising representative.

Part of it was my belief in the mission of the newspaper. It had actually been founded for the sole purpose of espousing an economic recovery plan for the city it served. Part of it was my consistency. When I first began the job, I was given a list of contacts, some of whom were regular advertisers, some of whom were new. It was an uphill battle. Many of the business owners I called upon were frustrated with turnover … with seeing a different representative every month or going months without seeing a representative at all.

Early on in my brief but successful career in sales, I focused on seeing every advertiser and potential advertiser every week, usually at the same time. I followed through when they did advertise, often laying out their advertisement myself (back in the days of photo stock, xacto knives and warm wax) to ensure it was done according to spec. I never failed to deliver a proof or several tear sheets of the final product. I hounded, I cajoled, I charmed but, most of all, I was consistent.

It paid off big-time. Not instantly, but slowly and steadily.

I’m not bragging – merely trying to make a point.

So, what does my story have to do with the current state of affairs of many nonprofit organizations?

My personal belief – and I am not a business expert by a long shot – on both the state of our economy and the present state of nonprofit organizations is that, for far too many years, both have been solely focused on short-term success – while ignoring the long-term vision.

Development work, in particular, is all about mission and relationships.

  • That $50,000 proposal that was declined last month? Despite the fact that it was declined, the proposal and your organization made a favorable impression on the foundation and notes have been made within their internal review process to fund your agency next year.
  • The hours spent studying Raisers Edge or Etapestry or Donor Perfect, modifying and correcting fields and data? They will enable your organization to properly segment and target your most loyal donors for your new monthly giving program.

Yet none of these activities are yielding immediate dollars.

And now the CEO or executive director, reviewing this development director’s past year’s accomplishments points to one factor – say a decline in grant funding – as evidence of a development director not doing his/her job.

The board member and chair of the development committee wrongly believes that events are the be-all, end-all of fundraising and is woefully disappointed in the $2,700 net from last year’s event.

Everyone involved, it would seem, has a different idea on what constitutes a successful development officer.

Could this have something to do with the average turnover in nonprofit development of 18 months?

Are nonprofit organizations laying the foundation for long-term results or simply focusing on surviving the here and now? Is there a way to earn immediate success while still positioning an organization to come out on top six months, 12 months, five years down the road?

I think so.

By educating organizations to the real role of development, creating multiple streams of income and devising a long-term strategic fundraising plan, there are certain strategies that can help garner immediate success, while raising awareness and laying the foundation for achieving longer-term goals.  It’s all about creating effective, easy-to-manage systems.

For example, when preparing for your agency’s annual appeal, have you considered querying your database and beginning a monthly giving plan to those loyal donors who have given … oh, say, $10 and up every year for the past ten years? Who’s to say a donor who has made it a habit of sending your agency $75 every year wouldn’t be delighted to automatically send you $10 every month? Implementing this kind of strategy now (and in the future) can help you save money on your mailings, get more immediate results and eventually provide your organization with a more sustainable individual giving base.

Know your donor. Examine how their attitudes and behavior are changing. Are you utilizing a unique mix of traditional and non-traditional tools to creatively steward your existing donors – and bring in new? Are you using Twitter? Facebook? Flickr? Could/should you be? Establishing a system to continue to collect insights will help you massage messaging appropriately and keep engaging your donors for the long haul.

People! Your website isn’t an afterthought. And it is no longer enough to merely have one! The abysmal state of nonprofit organization websites – overall – is a topic for another article. Suffice it to say that if your potential donors have to go searching on your site to figure out how to make a donation – or worse, if you don’t even offer the option of online giving – you’re in heaps of trouble. At the very least position a great big GIVE button in the middle of your site!

Make weekly foundation research a priority and think about how you can steward foundations who have funded you in the past. I always recommend NOT adding foundations to your regular mailing list. Sending them your monthly or quarterly newsletter is not the best method of foundation stewardship; it’s simply too impersonal. In addition to the foundation’s requested final report, make it a point to communicate with the foundation prior to submitting another proposal with a brief letter testifying to accomplishments their grant facilitated.


“Maturity is achieved when a person postpones immediate pleasures for long-term values.” Joshua Loth Liebman

Like this article? Hate it? Tell me your thoughts!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kylie Pierce June 30, 2009 at 10:30 am

Hi Pamela,

Thanks so much for this link and the link for your article about having a system in place for grants. I’m sure they’ll help to point me in the right direction! I appreciate you taking the time to reply on the DEVELOPMENT-OFFICE list.


Geoff Dabelko July 13, 2009 at 12:18 pm


Are there some anecdotal and/or systematic stories you tell for helping those less versed in social networking platforms better understand the “seriousness” of these tools? Have there been clear statements from the foundation or grant-giving world on the importance of presenting non-profit work (research and policy analysis in my case) in these forums?

Best, Geoff

Pamela Grow July 13, 2009 at 1:13 pm


No. I don’t have any either anecdotal or systematic stories specific to social media — I think that it is still too early in the game for that.

When I first began in nonprofit work, following several years working for a fairly large foundation, one of my first priorities was always to quickly develop the organization’s communications – from connecting with all of the local print press to connecting with local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc. to connecting with local and state elected officials – all to gain maximum positive exposure. I see the use of social media as a natural extension of that work AND as a form of stewardship. I think that Twitter, Facebook, Youtube – all provide great venues for connecting to a wider audience and for COMMUNICATING mission.

I don’t know that foundations are all that “up” on social media – but I do know that, in the course of a proposal review they will most definitely review an organization’s website. Some red flags would include outdated staff listings, a site that clearly has not been updated since 2006 and a site that does not feature online giving.

Thanks for writing!

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