A pinch of fairy dust and a touch of realism!

One of the most troubling facts about our industry is that the average time Development Directors stay in their roles is only 18 months!

On average, a major gift takes two years to move from identification and qualification to solicitation and closure. Major Gift Officers generally require three years of activity before an optimal return is first realized, and it takes four years before Gift Officers reach their maximum close rate.

Let’s revisit that 18-month tenure. The numbers simply don’t add up!

What is going on?

Development people are, by nature, optimistic. Optimism is one of Graham Pelton’s core values, and it is certainly a characteristic that I recognize in myself and most of my development colleagues. We are “people people” – optimistic, enthusiastic, and friendly. It’s what makes us good at what we do! But what is missing? Where is the disconnect?

The level of excitement and anticipation in any new role is always high both for the employer and the employee. New possibilities and new frontiers seem to open up and abound. The Development Director is full of new ideas for new projects and ways to make things happen. The honeymoon period is one of positivity and openness. But as the months tick by, expectations dwindle and reality sets in.

When we interview for a new position, there is almost always the unspoken sense that we bring with us a magic wand, which when waved brings a mysterious rain of dollars down on the institution! I truly believe that what fundraisers do does have a magical element – enabling incredible institutions to realize their missions – but we all know that it is essentially down to strategic planning and hard work. It is the latter that builds the relationships and empowers our donors to give.

As we talk to prospective employees in the excitement of the hiring process, an element that I think often gets overlooked is that of realistic expectations. So many hiring committees only share the real numbers of dollars that they have raised, as well as those dollars they expect to raise in the future. What they do not share, however, is the real timing in order to achieve goals.

Graham-Pelton’s experience supports that the closure of a major gift requires on average 26 “touches” in total – be they meetings, calls, emails, or letters – to move a prospect through the stages of qualification to cultivation, and from solicitation to the closing of a gift. That is one of the figures hiring managers often fail to share.

I am not advocating for negativity or pessimism. Quite the contrary. Rather, this is an argument for realistic optimism. Without a realistic perception of your capacities and opportunities, how can you improve them? Realistic optimists are cautiously hopeful of favorable outcomes and they do their utmost to obtain great results.

With a realistic idea of what it takes for a Development leader to fulfill her or his potential, hopefully expectations will be set reasonably and pressure realigned, allowing for us to shine in our roles and sprinkle a touch of that fairy dust on the institution!

Jane Narich is a Senior Vice President with Graham-Pelton. Contact her directly via e-mail or by calling 800-608-7955.

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