Development: Embracing the Profession and Activity

Sections of this topic

    A couple of weeks back (on January 28th) Tony Poderis addressed his concerns about the evolution (or devolution) of the fundraising field. Where I agree with Tony, wholeheartedly, I want to address the distinction between the two concepts … profession and activity as in the title of this piece.

    All professions, by definition, involve some level of special training/education and, often, a period of “internship” (however that’s defined). No one can decide to be a professional in any field, without learning the rules/practices of that field. No one can be a development professional on their first day in legitimate fundraising.

    Until about forty years ago, a person became a development professional by working for one of the old hands … being taught about the meaning of “development” and its rules, and being mentored for a period of years. Then, in the early 70s, a number of universities, in collaboration with many of those “old hands,” began offering intensive training programs for future development professionals.

    The basic rule of the “profession” was an ethical balance of the needs of the nonprofit organization and those that it served, and the needs of (potential) donors.

    Sometime in the 1980s, if I recall correctly, the “ethics of the profession” were formally codified. And, as I also recollect, codes of ethics seem to be part of what it means to be a professional.

    So, again, by definition, a Fundraising/Development Professional is someone who has been educated, has trained for the role, has demonstrated an understanding of the principles of development and an ability to apply them, and abides by a code of ethics.

    Just because someone has been hired by a nonprofit organization to be their director of development, or their grants writer or special events coordinator, doesn’t make them a Development Professional.

    Development as an activity is defined as the process of establishing relationships with potential donors (individuals, foundations, corporations) with the purpose of learning their needs and how the satisfaction of those needs can/will correspond with the satisfaction of the needs of the nonprofit organization.

    The Development process involves the education of the prospective donors as to the mission, programs, successes and needs of the nonprofit organization and the people it serves. The term “donor cultivation” refers to the “getting to know you” process – the donor getting to know the NPO and the appropriate people at the NPO getting to know the (prospective) donor.

    It is only after the relationship has been formed, the parties have gotten to know each other, and how the needs of both could be satisfied, that the “solicitation” of the donor can proceed. “Fundraising” is the next-to-the-last-step in the development process.

    Next Week K. Michael Johnson assures Development Directors/Managers that Millennials may have worthwhile ideas to offer.

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