Before I embark on this rant a word of compassion: to me anybody who chooses to be an executive director of a nonprofit, especially a smaller one, has my respect and admiration. It is a killer job and often an unforgiving one.

That said, there’s something you EDs do all the time that actively gets in the way of your organization’s fundraising success: You evaluate your development folks based on how much money they bring in. You have to stop doing that immediately.

At first flush that just seems like common sense, right? A ‘good’ development director and a ‘good’ development team will raise more money than a ‘bad’ one. And surely tying job performance evaluations (or worse,  salary) to fundraising outcomes will encourage people to work harder.

It’s a reasonable assumption but it’s mostly wrong. And it’s almost always counterproductive. Here’s why:

Fundraising outcomes are the outputs of a complex, interdependent array of things over which your fundraisers have at best partial control. Their success depends on the overall fundraising environment, the level of collaboration with you and the Board, the organization’s reputation, and what else is going on in the world.

On the other hand, tying income to fundraiser performance evaluations, or punishing fundraisers when money is down, will accomplish some things with near certainty: it will cause stress and burnout. And neuroscience shows that when a brain is stressed, its capacity for creativity and peak functioning is impaired (more about this soon). It will also make it nearly impossible to keep good fundraisers from bolting.

So here’s the tl;dr punchline: when you hold fundraisers directly responsible for fundraising outcomes, you might or might not raise more money, but with 100% certainty you will impair your fundraisers’ ability to perform and with near 100% certainty you will shorten their tenure.

What can you do? A lot actually. Most EDs do not really understand how fundraising works. I’m sorry but that’s unforgivable. And to my mind, any Board that hires an ED that has zero interest in fundraising is guilty of malpractice. If you really understand fundraising, you’ll immediately realize that tying performance to income is counterproductive. More importantly, you’ll come to understand the interdependencies that drive fundraising outcomes and you’ll be in a better position to serve as an active ally. That will almost certainly help the bottom line.

Of course you can and should evaluate fundraisers on their drive, their creativity, their management and leadership skills, and their ability to manage both you and your Board. This is not a get out of jail free card. Just NEVER tie performance to money, one way or the other.

I know your job is impossible. Alia and I work as coaches and trainers for many EDs. But if you want to raise more money, you need to prioritize getting your head well and truly into the game.

Oh, and Happy New Year.