The core of the question, in any of those settings, is a search for an “ideal” or industry standard. Such an animal doesn’t exist.

There are just too many variables for an across-the-board approach to organizing a development office, especially in terms of how many staff should be employed before we know what they should be employed to do. That would truly be a backward approach. Before the how many, you need to know the what for. Too many questions need to be answered about an organization and its fund-raising intent before you can determine how many people are needed.

  • How old is the organization?
  • What is the size of its annual operating budget?
  • Is the organization and its annual budget expected to expand, contract, or remain about the same size?
  • Is the organization planning to add new functionality or service areas?
  • Does the organization have an earned income stream?
  • What percentage of the organization’s annual operating budget relies upon contributed income?
  • Is there an existing fundraising operation? If so, how long has that fund-raising operation been in existence?
  • What are the principal sources of contributed income at this time–small donors, large donors, grant-making organizations and corporations?
  • Does the organization want to change the weighting of that sourcing?
  • How well known is the organization and its work to the community which it serves?
  • Has there been a change in the fund-raising environment in the community of donors from which the organization requests or will request funding?
  • Have there been any events that impact the organization’s credibility in the fundraising marketplace

The above list makes it clear that attempting to figure out how many people should comprise a development office before understanding the organization’s history, its standing within the community, and its known and anticipated contributed income needs and sourcing is putting the cart before the horse.

How to and how many depend
on what you intend to do

Before you can determine how many people are needed to accomplish any task, you need to define and delineate that task and the plausibility of accomplishing it. You need to know and understand what you want to accomplish and in what environment. Then comes the planning that will determine the how-to. Finally comes the question of how many people will be needed and the expertise, knowledge, and support they will require.

So, assuming you have done the homework assigned, let’s get back to that question of staff. To begin with, a development department must have at its head a chief development officer–the person responsible for managing all development efforts and personnel including professional development officers and support staff.

For the sake of this discussion I’ll define professional staff as individuals responsible for the management and execution of:

  • Fund-raising campaigns.
  • Donor relationships.
  • Grant writing and acquisition.
  • Planned giving.

Depending on the type and size of fundraising effort, support staff may include specialists in performing:

  • Clerical operations.
  • Website content operations.
  • Data management.
  • Communications.

This is not to say that persons involved in support operations are not professionals in their own right. And I am sure that the above needs could be sliced and diced in different ways. Even here at the most basic division of fundraising efforts, one organization’s specific needs may differ in scope from that of another. For example, organizations that rely heavily on small gifts solicited via email and the Internet and then received through their websites will have highly specialized skill needs that a local homeless shelter is unlikely to find necessary.

When the fund-raising efforts of an organization rely heavily on individuals asking other individuals for support the organization will require development professionals with experience that matches up with managing that form of effort. On the other hand, if the organization relies more heavily on methods such as telefunding, direct mail, or Web contact, a different set of skills is likely to be needed. Obviously the more different types of fund-raising initiatives undertaken by an organization, the more varied will be the expertise needed within the development department.

An important point to consider here is the question of individuals and skill sets. As the skills needed to carry out a fund-raising plan become more specialized there is a lessening of likelihood that the organization will find individuals possessing multiples of those skill sets. That means the greater the number of fundraising avenues down which an organization decides to travel, the larger will be the staff that organization is likely to need.

The same is true when it comes to the types of fund-raising campaigns in which an organization will engage. The scope of experience needed will vary based on the requirements of capital, endowment, annual, sponsorship, underwriting, etc. campaigns. While it is possible to find individuals experienced in all of these types of fund-raising campaigns, those individuals will command the highest compensation and are likely to be seeking positions where they manage larger development departments.

Then there is the magnitude and frequency of those campaigns. The greater the amount of money or value being sought, the greater the likelihood an organization will need a larger development staff. And obviously, an organization that carries out a funding drive every year will need more staff than one that carries out such a drive every third year.

Further complicating the issue of development staff size, is the question of who asks for the money and role of volunteer leadership. The more an organization asks of its paid staff, the larger that staff will need to be. When the board of trustees and other volunteers take on the responsibility of asking for support, the development staff is freed to manage and provide logistical support for fund-raising efforts. In short, the stronger the role of volunteer leadership, the fewer number of staff fundraisers likely to be needed.

One Size definitely never fits all

Organizations should also take into account the following facts when it comes to establishing or reorganizing a development department.

  • Start-up costs for new and emerging organizations can greatly affect the yield from fund-raising efforts.
  • Setting the scene for new major campaigns, such as for capital, endowment, sponsorships, and underwriting can take time, maybe years. The word development means more that simply raising money. It also means developing the means and environment for fund-raising. This part of the development effort will result in upfront expense that requires investment on the part of the organization. Hiring a staff today and expecting it to raise significant amounts of money tomorrow is unrealistic. Hire the staff yes, but be prepared for an investment in time and funds before the kind of returns that were the impetus for starting a development effort begin to come in.
  • The development staff you hire today may not be able to meet the funding needs that are just around the corner. An organization that commits to a major development effort, it likely to find multiple ways to spend the new money. There is a multiplier effect. More money coming it encourages more spending.
  • The skills, experiences, and interests of development staff persons will impact the quantity and quality of their work. Hire professionals, but make sure they are highly supportive and in agreement with the organization’s mission and methods.
  • All too often development staff members are required to perform activities other than fund-raising within the organization. The more those charged with fulfilling development goals are saddled with handling activities such as marketing, PR, communications, etc., the less time and effort they can spend on development. Also picking one person over another for a development opening because he or she can function in some other area is likely to result in picking the second best true development pro.

Determining the number and type
of development staff needed

First you outline the organization’s total fund-raising needs–current and planned. Then you determine the number of people and the type of expertise needed to meet thosefunding needs.

You don’t start by arbitrarily setting numbers for a fund-raising budget, and you never organize a development office around an arbitrarily set number of staff. The size of an organization’s development staff and its funding effort must grow out of an organization’s long-range strategic plan. That is the organization’s “road map,” from which program and operational initiatives are dictated, and fund-raising goals are set. To do otherwise is to court disaster.