The lifeblood of any nonprofit organization is its donors. Because donors fund operational costs, programs and services, in addition to endowments and other future funds, it is crucial to not only develop positive relationships with donors but to nurture them in the long run.
Pat Bobker is a critically acclaimed author and educator from Topsham, Maine, who has been working in the nonprofit sector for over 10 years. As a subject matter expert, she describes what you need to know about becoming a nonprofit development expert. Sound, strategic planning and positive thinking are critical core components to successful deliverables and outcomes.
A Brief Overview
From 2005 to 2015, the number of nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS rose from 1.41 million to 1.56 million, an increase of 10.4 percent. These 1.56 million organizations comprise a diverse range of nonprofits, including art, health, education, and advocacy nonprofits; labor unions; and business and professional associations.
Nonprofit development is on the rise as one of the United States’ fastest-growing areas of need. Pat Bobker explains that in Maine, development overwhelmingly leads the list of job openings in the nonprofit sector. While some may correctly assume that it is a difficult profession in which to excel, many nonprofits are exceedingly successful at raising enough money to cover operational costs, have a balance for future programming and in savings, as well as an endowment fund for the organization’s future viability. Pat Bobker will explain why it could be the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.
So, what is development exactly? Pat Bobker explains that most nonprofits are funded by a variety of revenue sources, from individual donors to private foundations and corporate sponsorship. In order to maintain, sustain and grow these donations, nonprofits need a development expert, someone who understands that each revenue source needs to be approached in a different way and that it takes time to develop lasting relationships—and loads of elbow grease! Development encompasses the methodology that an organization uses to move forward both financially and strategically.
In order to become a development expert in a highly saturated sector, where funds and resources are sought of the same people by many nonprofits, it is essential to employ both resourcefulness and creativity. Whether it is using unusual and innovative tactics to catch the attention of new donors, or finding new ways to fundraise, the sector often requires professionals to think outside of the box.
Pat Bobker explains that innovation is a fundamental staple to the profession. Thus, to be an expert in the field, it takes years of tenacity and continuous industry research; what worked 10 years ago is not as effective or competitive today. Demographics are quickly changing. As an example, millennials are among the fastest-growing new charitable demographics; more than 65% of charitable donors through their retirement funds are female; many donors to endowment funds are still in the workplace.
Pat Bobker explains that it is critical to plan or execute goals and their respective action steps based on a current, fact-based foundation — for every initiative and campaign.
In addition to innovative thinking, development experts also need to be disciplined strategic planners, superior communicators, and spirited partnership creators. Community partnerships, like those with individuals, should be mindful, meaningful, and mutually rewarding – with a lasting, positive future in mind. A development expert can see the bigger picture and knows an organization like the back of his or her hand.
Key Things to Remember
Pat Bobker explains that it is important to note that intuitive thinking is not something that can be taught. Development professionals need to be able to truly understand people, behave as icons of diplomacy, sensing and responding to people’s strengths and weaknesses in a balanced and professional manner. There is a lot of information about donor relationships out there, but patience and tenacity are the keystone. These relationships are gleaned over time, with constant engagement and attention to detail.
Whether they are working with co-workers, prospects, donors, volunteers, or any one of the many forces that make for a successful charity, the key to being a successful development executive means several things, including being prepared to start early and work late, work non-traditional hours at events, provide non-stop yet strategic outreach to donors and prospects, provide continuous and impeccable record-keeping and follow-up, and every once in a while, breathe.
Pat Bobker wants development executives to remember that these efforts are making a direct impact on helping preserve the earth and its inhabitants, provide quality education, assist neighbors in need, and so on.
Pat Bobker’s Final Thoughts
A new study in the Journal of Economic Psychology finds that British people who work for not-for-profit organizations, including charities and social enterprises tend to be much happier with their lives than for-profit workers, more satisfied with their jobs (including their hours and job security), they enjoy their day-to-day activities more, and they believe more strongly that they are playing a useful role in life.
Pat Bobker explains that if you have the skills, grit, determination, and communicative finesse that it takes to rack up as impressive a track record as she has, then she urges you to do so. The rewards are life-lasting.
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