Monday, September 1, 2008

Details, Details, Details …Developing Standards, Protocols, Procedures for a Strong Development Department

Can you imagine a more tedious topic?

Developing comprehensive policies and procedures for a development department would hardly seem a subject loaded with the fun factor of, say, the latest direct mail tactics, or the newest strategies for online giving, or attending a workshop geared towards putting more “oomph” in your grant proposals.

Yet the policies and procedures that a good development department sets forth, particularly early on, can bring the organization untold dividends far into the future.

And ignoring the importance of standards will create havoc down the road.

Imagine receiving a donation from a contributor who notes that she would like her check to be allocated to a specific program – and having no record of the program?

Imagine having found that “perfect fit” foundation, spending three days crafting your organization’s first proposal, sending it off … and later finding that the foundation HAD funded your organization three years ago, kept no record, and failed to follow through with a final report? (Did I mention that you are the third development director in three years and files are nonexistent?)

Imagine your offices receiving a call from an irate regular donor of thirty years, vowing to never contribute again because she has phoned three times in the past to have her deceased husband’s name removed from the mailing list – and she just received a newsletter in his name?

Imagine not having any idea of how well your Fall Appeal did – because the proper coding was never created in the donor database.

I have encountered these horror stories and, yes, worse, in a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.

An organization’s best campaign will fall on deaf ears if donors have given up on your organization in frustration over poor stewardship.

Attrition probably plays the biggest role in the problem. Staff turnover in development is a huge issue.

Penelope Burk, the founder of donor-centered fundraising notes that “Everyone in fundraising knows that high staff turnover in our industry is ferocious” and is creating a new study on the reasons and affects of staff turnover.

Of course, one major reason for staff turnover relates to the often abysmal pay in the field. Another relates to unrealistic benchmarking and not recognizing that some cultivation efforts will take months, if not years, to bear fruit (it’s only after a year to even two years that an organization will typically begin to see real results from the grantwriting process).

Yet another part of the problem is the cavalier attitude paid to establishing firm guidelines and record keeping, support staff, selecting an appropriate donor database, budgeting for training and recognizing the long-term value of maintaining the integrity of your data.

From the smallest organization to the largest, written protocols should be established early on setting forth the most exhaustive details – from your organization’s salutation standards, to who signs thank you letters – and regularly tweaked (and always put in writing).

What salutation style does your organization prefer? First name or Mr./Ms./Mrs.? Ampersand or “and”? How do you handle deceased records? How are the grant files maintained?

What is the turnaround time for gift acknowledgement? One week? Two? Who places thank you phone calls? When and why?

When deciding upon a donor database, is price your only criteria (I sincerely hope not!)?

Once you have a database in place, is your organization recognizing the value of proper maintenance, including training and the hiring of a qualified database manager? Raisers Edge can be the Cadillac of donor databases – or an Edsel, depending on how many people have had their hands in it and how badly folks have mucked up the coding.

And Excel is not a database. It is a spreadsheet. If you’re keeping your records in Excel, you’re in for some problems.

Development is, by nature, data-driven. Pay attention to the details.