More nonprofits hiring development staff to create sustainable future for their organizations

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Shelly Birkelo
Monday, February 6, 2017

JANESVILLE--As competition for donations increases, local nonprofits are adding specialized staff to help raise money for their organizations.

“In looking at our program partner list, over one-third of the organizations we provide community grants to have a dedicated resource development position or team,” said Mary Fanning-Penny, president of United Way Blackhawk Region.

Rick West dedicates his workday to the United Way's annual fundraising campaign.

Penny Monte focuses on maintaining relationships with churches while recruiting additional churches for the GIFTS Men's Shelter.

Alexa Siker Grafft provides a revenue-generating perspective to all functions of the Rock County Historical Society.

Lisa Hurda seeks funding opportunities, networks, educates and informs the community about Community Action.

The trend toward “resource development” staff has become more prevalent over the past decade,

It helps nonprofits diversify revenue streams so they're not solely reliant on the United Way, major grants or private foundations, Fanning-Penny said.

It also forces organizations to get more creative in the way they generate money, she said.

Nationwide, more nonprofits are chasing the same number of dollars. The number of nonprofit organizations has grown by 25 percent nationwide, but household giving has remained flat during the past 10 years, Fanning-Penny said.

With 1,050 nonprofit organizations in Rock County, United Way knows the value of having a fund development person on staff, Fanning-Penny said.

“Even though United Way continues to be well-positioned to fundraise at a level that smaller organizations don't have the capacity to, in today's environment the competition for dollars is that much more fierce,” she said.

That's why West spends 40 hours a week managing a portfolio of accounts that generate annual contributions to the United Way, Fanning-Penny said.


At HealthNet of Rock County, Executive Director Ian Hedges and board members are responsible for raising money for the county's only free medical and dental clinic.

“I spend a significant amount of time grant writing and hosting special events with a great deal of assistance from the board of directors,” Hedges said.

That's why Hedges applied for and received an AmeriCorps VISTA grant to pay for a full-time fund-development staffer starting this summer.

“Having that person to assist me and the board will greatly help. I will be able to take more time to think about the needs of the uninsured in Rock County and be able to provide more options for them,” Hedges said.

“People choose nonprofit work for the ability to give back, but when you're constantly spending time juggling too many things at once it can cause heavy burnout,” he said.


GIFTS Men's Shelter in September added a part-time outreach and development assistant to its four-member staff, said Stephanie Burton, executive director.

While the ministry has increased its services over the past decade, its budget has also increased, making fundraising a priority, she said.

Penny Monte spends 25 hours a week working with 40 participating churches, recruiting new churches, returning phone calls, writing thank-you notes, researching prospects and making community connections.

This allows Burton to focus on her executive director duties and “the big picture” of the ministry that serves homeless men.

“Because we are a newer organization and our staff is so small, I've had to have my spoon in every single pot. This will help me keep all balls in the air,” she said.

Burton acknowledged fundraising is a tough job because of the stiff competition for dollars in the community.

“There's not one bucket for a nonprofit to rely on for their sustainability, so you have events, corporate sponsors, write grants and have individual donors to maintain and build relationships with. All of that takes time and effort,” she said.


The Rock County Historical Society created a full-time business resource manager 18 months ago that has evolved into a development manager.

“It was imperative I and the board had another fundraising individual on the team that could focus on expanding revenues streams for some existing services and products and also create new revenue generating streams,” said Mike Reuter, executive director.

Without this additional staff person, “we clearly weren't going to be able to get over the hump as far as achieving goals of the strategic plan,” he said.

Alexa Siker Grafft, development manager, provides an extra set of hands and is another ambassador out in the community to accelerate growth, Reuter said.

“It's possible to move things forward but just much harder of a road to go down when you don't have that person,” he said.

Money raised by Siker Grafft will be more than her compensation package, Reuter said.

Although Siker Grafft is not doing any grant writing, Reuter will hand over more fundraising opportunities to her as she grows in her new role.

Like other nonprofit organizations, the historical society continues to wean off grant support and municipal funding.

That's why it's essential to have a resource development manager or director, he said.


Community Action hired its first full-time fund development officer in 2003.

Since then, the position has evolved, and today Lisa Hurda is development manager.

Beth Tallon, public relations manager, also plays a role in the organization's fund development, said Cecilia Dever, executive director.

“We have two staff members, both who work 35 hours (a week), who work as a team. It's not one person working alone anymore, it's two people in different but similar roles,” she said.

Without these staff positions, Dever said it would be very difficult for Community Action to meet its mission "without worrying day-to-day where our funding is going to come from to keep doors open.”

Organization leaders, including board members, believe the wages and benefits paid to Hurda and Tallon are an investment in Community Action's success, Dever said.

“They understand the amount of work and responsibility it takes to pull off these fundraising events,” she said.

Dever said fund development is “extremely important” for Community Action because many of its state and federally funded programs require a match.

“If we can't go out and seek those funds,” she said, "we're not going to be able to accept federal or state funding.”

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