What is Nonprofit Resource Development

“Resource development” – A term often thrown around my nonprofit professionals. Whether you find yourself here because you’ve only just heard of this field or maybe you’re an RD pro looking to learn some tips, this article will help you understand the difference between resource development and fundraising (yes, there is a difference) and how you can increase your organization’s donations through grant writing and other strategies.

1. Resource Development is: essential to every nonprofit organization

Resource development is the field of work that enables a nonprofit organization to acquire, maintain and advance the resources necessary to carry out its work, grow its activities and achieve its mission.

Because of the resource development professional’s central role in the organization, they should embrace its mission and have an understanding of its content, overall message, and style.

2. Resource Development is not: Fundraising*

A common misconception is that “fundraising” is a synonym for “resource development.” This is not true… although, for us RD pros, it can be a much easier answer to the question “what do you do for a living?” at a dinner party. That said, fundraising is a major component of resource development and one of its main goals.

While fundraising focuses heavily on seeking and gathering donations, resource development aims to strategize and establish a holistic approach that includes donor identification and acquisition, but also retention, recognition, and development. RD is also comprised of a variety of types of support, not only straightforward, cash donations.

The resources your nonprofit organization needs to thrive can include financial support (obviously), as well as knowledge/ expertise (e.g., training), human resources (e.g., volunteers), supplies/ equipment (e.g., in-kind donations) and much more.

3. Resource Development is: Comprehensive

So, if resource development is so much more than fundraising, then what else are we talking about? Glad you asked…

It is the resource development professional’s role to establish a pipeline including identifying, understanding, cultivating, asking, and following up with potential donors and partners. We must actively pursue suitable potential donors and partners, follow up with potential leads from various sources and cultivate those relationships with the goal of securing the relevant support.

Grants are a major source of funding for most organizations and nonprofit sector. Development professionals must oversee grant seeking and research, proposal writing, and reporting requirements. Grant writing is a major component of any resource development strategy and, therefore, requires strong writing skills.

Another element of resource development that most organizations should emphasize is tracking and mapping interactions with donors (past, present, and future) in fundraising databases and/or tracking systems, such as a CRM.

In addition, RD pros (also known as “advancement,” especially in academic settings) oversee prospect research, not only for grant opportunities, but other types of potential donors as well (e.g., individuals, corporate sponsors, government support, etc.). They are also responsible for maintaining gift recognition programs and creating publications to support fundraising activities, such as annual reports.

Pro tip: remember earlier when we emphasized the importance of understanding the organization’s content, overall message, and style? We must be aware of the content being created and other activities within the organization in order to identify opportunities for fundraising and sponsorship, as many of these areas can be monetized. Ideas for income generating activities are limitless… for example, maybe your organization runs arts and crafts programs for youth at risk after school or in nursing homes – you can sell this merchandise made by your beneficiaries.

Other resource development activities include, but are not limited to:

# Digital development – i.e., online fundraising campaigns
# Major gift programs – identification, cultivation and solicitation of major donors
# Planned giving programs – deferred gifts such as bequests and legacies (gifts in wills)
# Annual fundraising drives, capital campaigns and other major fundraising drives – often via direct mail marketing, both email and postal
# Fundraising events
# Employee fundraising drives – especially matching gifts

4. Resource Development is not: a jack-of-all-trades

The resources we seek and receive have monetary value and are an organizational asset, therefore it is important to have a strong financial background or commitment to learn. That being said, resource development is not accounting or bookkeeping.

Likewise, your organization’s resource development is not its legal department. This is important to mention because, although not obvious, resource development professionals must often review and adhere to grant agreements, including their many conditions such as reporting requirements, organizational policy or bylaw obligations, anonymity clauses and more.

Moreover, resource development is not program management. RD professionals can be an important part of your program development team, as they have developed a deep understanding of what makes a well-planned and successful program thanks to working extensively with donors throughout program lifecycles, from proposal to reporting. A wise organization will leverage their expertise in foreseeing potential challenges, defining measurable outcome indicators, and developing a budget. However, your development professional should not be expected to run the program, oversee its budget or track its success metrics. While in small, grassroots organizations individual staff members often perform other related duties as requested or serve multiple roles, it is important to maintain a dedicated resource development professional. They should work closely, but independently, from the organization’s Director of Finance, legal counsel and program managers. Consulting and working closely with the executive team, founder(s), and marketing team will support the resource development strategy and ensure its success.

5. …is: all about people

Finally, and most importantly, resource development is all about people – all people… both inside and outside of the organization. This fact requires emotional intelligence, professionalism and humility.

The community within and surrounding your organization are all valuable resources and contribute significantly to its development. They include staff, volunteers, service providers, contractors, suppliers, beneficiaries as well as the families and friends of all these individuals. In addition to offering their time, skills and expertise, they may have the potential to give financial support to the organization.

With regard to donors, respect and appreciation are of the utmost importance. An experienced resource development professional will develop a deep understanding of each donor’s motivation for giving. This is key to establishing and retaining strong relationships with donors and will help you identify the correct donor for the correct project. As their main point of contact, you are accountable for donors’ experiences with the organization, including all kinds of interactions and responding to requests.

In order to establish effective communications with prospective donors and supporters, we must meet with them on a continual basis. For this reason, you should be willing (desire, even) to get out of the office to build relationships. Further, in today’s new normal (following the Coronavirus outbreak), it is also important to be proficient in videoconferencing logistics and etiquette.

Moreover, it is equally important to cultivate relationships within your organization, especially its leadership. Establishing trust and strong relationships with the founder, Executive Director and board ensure that the organization’s message is being effectively represented and communicated. This is important, as we are sometimes called upon to make public appearances or speaking engagements on behalf of the organization.

6. …is: a lesson in patience

Nonprofit Resource development is a long-term process. Too often, organizations wait until they are in a financial crisis before investing in resource development. This should be avoided at all costs, as it takes time to create and implement a resource development strategy, especially one that includes long-term goals.

The grant application process alone can weeks of writing and program development before submitting. Then, responses (acceptance and rejections) can take months to arrive – even up to a year in some cases! You must be patient. Some estimates suggest that just one in every 30 requests is successful… This can be discouraging, but don’t lose hope! This often says more about the funder’s capacity to give than the merits of your work or quality of your application… Discussions with potential donors or representatives of funding bodies can include years of regular meetings. This is because it takes time to build trust as well as to prove impact. Sometimes, it is because your priorities are not aligned at a given time. Whatever the reason, don’t give up – this line of work is a labor of love and when you are passionate about the cause, others will be too!

At the end of the day, resource development is fundamental to the success of any nonprofit organization. Keeping in mind the above advice will enable your resource development professional(s) to focus on the many aspects of this complex field, build organizational capacity, and empower you to fulfill your mission.

At Minuf, we help build the capacity of nonprofit and civil society organizations, enabling them to be robust and impactful. Our team staff is comprised of native English and Hebrew speakers and is highly skilled in fundraising from foundations, federations, private donors, government bodies, and more. Our expert staff is comprised of professionals with years of experience in the field who will manage the fundraising process from beginning to end. We offer a range of services including not only resource development, but also digital marketing, strategic planning, and more.

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