Exceptional development professionals aren’t born; they are made. And exceptional development professionals can’t be made overnight.
A persistent myth exists that some people are “natural fundraisers.” While it’s true that some individuals possess abilities, attitudes or personality traits that bode well for success in advancement work, it is impossible for anyone—however talented or promising they may be—to become a genuinely high-performing gift officer without an initial period of learning, practice, and coaching. Organizations cannot therefore expect consistently strong results from their gift officers without affording them a reasonable ramp-up period and continuing to offer opportunities to practice and hone the key skills, strategies, and tactics that produce extraordinary outcomes.
A considerable amount of time—2–4 years—is required for new development officers to hit their stride and begin generating reliably strong results from their portfolios. It should not be a surprise considering the significant transitions and challenges that new development professionals face: integrating themselves into an unfamiliar environment, prioritizing and qualifying an initial portfolio loaded with potential donors, getting acquainted with those potential donors and building relationships, and forging partnerships inside their own organization—and all while striving to comprehend and master a new craft.
Once advancement leaders acknowledge that their development officers require time and ongoing support to achieve competence and confidence, their organizations should plan to take full advantage of what amounts to an apprenticeship period for new hires. This includes a meaningful, well-constructed training program that will introduce the profession, establish expectations, impart best practices, and progressively enhance gift officers’ effectiveness as they settle into their new roles.
Objectives of Training Programs
Organizations that implement strategic training and professional development initiatives usually seek to achieve some mixture of the following five objectives:
- Ensure that team members internalize the organization’s mission, know its philanthropic priorities, and understand how charitable giving can and should contribute to its success.
- Familiarize staff with the organization’s own approach and internal processes for cultivating and securing major philanthropic contributions.
- Set clear standards and convey best practices for how to build relationships, conduct solicitations, close contributions, and provide appropriate stewardship.
- Help development professionals master their craft through a thoughtful sequence of formal learning opportunities, hands-on experiences, and repetitive practice opportunities that progressively build their skills, confidence, and effectiveness.
- Realize appreciably greater philanthropic results per gift officer and, in turn, much stronger results for the overall organization.
The Benefits of Training
Given the high rate of turnover among frontline gift officers, budget-minded, bottom-line oriented leaders might question the wisdom of investing substantial resources in training staff members who could possibly take their newly acquired skills to another organization. In our opinion, this is a concern that wrongly focuses on a single possible downside to staff training, rather than on the numerous ways that a strong, sustained professional development program can increase staff productivity and strengthen employee retention. These benefits include:
- Staff members feeling better supported and more valued by their organization
- Gift officers having greater clarity about what is expected of them and how their progress will be measured
- Development professionals becoming comfortable with their work more quickly, experiencing less anxiety, and maintaining their initial enthusiasm
- Those satisfied, confident gift officers becoming more successful in building meaningful donor relationships
- Successful, engaged development professionals becoming more deeply connected to their donors and to the organization—and thus becoming much more likely to stay
- Ongoing professional development programs providing a path to long-term success, continuing to challenge fundraisers, and helping them envision a longer-term future with their organization
- A team of trained, practiced, and long-serving development professionals producing stronger results, generating lasting momentum, and realizing greater long-term success
Is your organization seeking to create a strategic plan to train, grow, and retain an exceptionally productive team of development professionals—or are you looking to strengthen your current program? Get started by downloading and completing our “Training Needs Analysis Checklist.”