The Elusive Development Plan

I remember when the Council for Educational Standards & Accountability (CESA) was just taking form.  I had watched my head of school, Jay Ferguson, traipse all over the United States in search of schools that were striving for excellence in Christian education.  After many of those trips, Jay would meet with our leadership team and share idea after idea he had observed and we would evaluate them for review and, often, adoption to improve our programs and services. Many of these conversations came from CESA standards, which called us and are still calling Christian schools to new levels of excellence.

During a recent conversation with Katie Wiens, Executive Director of CESA, I learned that schools struggle with standard 3.16 more than any other standard during the CESA Institutional Review.

We have a development plan that implements research-based fund development initiatives, including operational funds, capital campaign funds, and endowment funds.

Why is this standard the greatest struggle?  We all know the value of planning.  The internet is replete with examples of development plans and with suggestions for creating and implementing those plans.  A quick Google search returned 63,800,000 results in .66 seconds!  If you don’t have a development plan, you probably haven’t googled it!

There are so many suggestions and guidelines for completing a development plan that making this article the 63,800,001st in your search will not create the “aha” moment our school is looking for, and in reality, CESA isn’t really about providing templates, rather CESA hopes to ask good questions, gather great information, and allow talented people to make it work in their schools. So, along that line, I submit that the failure on the part of many schools to generate a development plan may actually be a symptom of several underlying issues. In this edition, we will explore those possibilities.

Development offices can be a revolving door of personnel.  According to a recent study by noted author and development consultant, Penelope Burke, the average tenure for development professionals is 16 months.  The internal cost to continually replace these positions is extremely high, yet difficult to quantify. The continual replacement process can be exhausting.  Schools pay for it in relationships with our most valued supporters.  As relationships are just beginning to bear fruit, the development professional leaves for another opportunity and your supporters feel the whiplash and inconsistency from the development office.

The solution?  Hire well. Use a search firm, if necessary. Compensate well according to local and national benchmarks. Set clear goals and expectations with benchmarks and metrics, but don’t expect too much, too quickly.

Unlike other roles within a school, it is extremely rare to find a development professional with a degree in fundraising.  In fact, only recently has higher education recognized the value in providing coursework that covers fundraising and non-profit management.  In addition, many development professionals within our schools were hired as a result of their volunteerism within the school.  While they may have been an excellent volunteer, when they assume a full-time role as a development professional, the role can become overwhelming.

The solution?  Invest in your development staff.  Reward good performance.  Provide honest feedback and frequent reviews.  Provide a strong professional development budget for your team.  Seek educational opportunities – some of these include credentials such as Certified Fund-Raising Executive (CFRE), Certified Fund-Raising Management (CFRM), Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), etc.  For the past seven years, CESA has hosted the Advancement Institute in part, to provide networking opportunities with other development professionals. Register today!

Too often, fundraising professionals are tasked with events and activities that have nothing to do with fundraising. While these activities may be beneficial to the school community, a review of the activity may reveal that it is best suited for other staff to manage or be eliminated altogether.  In one of my first leadership team meetings at my current school, I found out that I was in charge of the “New Parent Packets” that would be circulated to parents at the beginning of the school year.  I had difficulty connecting the packets to the fundraising functions of our school.  After confirming that I was in charge of the packets, I quickly announced that “New Parent Packets” would be eliminated.  After some fun debate, no one else wanted to tackle the project and it was eliminated. We gathered the information formerly gleaned from this process from other sources. Often it takes new eyes to see these opportunities to eliminate “what we have always done”, but with some discipline, this exercise can make your development team and your school run more effectively.

The solution?  Complete an audit of the work of your fundraising staff to identify non-fundraising activities being handled within the development office, working toward ensuring that the office focuses on those activities geared toward fundraising.  If there are non-fundraising tasks within the office, is the activity worth the investment?  Can other staff and/or volunteers complete those tasks?  Should they be eliminated altogether?  Ask tough questions and make the hard decisions in order to stay laser-focused on what’s most important.

Team Profile
Ensure balance in personality profiles within the development office. Too often, we hire people with personalities like ours, missing out on essential skills that make our teams effective. A high functioning development team certainly has individuals that possess excellent people skills, but it also requires someone to focus on the details.  At Grace, we use the Culture Index™ tool, which measures seven work-related traits of each individual and how these traits relate to the rest of the team. If a school is missing any particular profile or skill, and there isn’t the budget to hire a new position, perhaps a volunteer or part-time individual could round out the team.

The solution?  Complete personality profiles and regularly review and celebrate the differences on your team and within your volunteer teams.  Google it.  There are plenty of profiles and assessments that can be completed for free!

I would contend that any school with a well-trained and seasoned fundraising professional armed with a robust professional development budget and the freedom to focus their activity on fundraising priorities will be able to develop a customized, strategic development plan that rivals any plan that can be reproduced or “borrowed” from a quick Google search.  Hiring, equipping, and solid planning for a professional office will ensure a solid financial future for each of our schools, making standard 3.16 one of the strongest standards in a CESA audit.



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Tim Connor has been in Christian education his entire life – as a student, teacher, coach, athletic director, middle school principal, head of school and currently serving as the Director of Advancement at Grace Community School in Tyler, TX.  His experiences have been in both large (Canyon Creek Christian Academy – Richardson, TX) and small (Summit Christian Academy – Clarks Summit, PA) schools.  All experiences have been in church schools, navigating the delicate pathways required when sharing facilities and oftentimes, personnel.  Tim completed his bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Pensacola Christian College and a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Clarks Summit University.  He also currently holds the CFRE (Certified Fund-Raising Executive) designation. Tim can be reached at

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