3 Benefits of a Development Assessment You Don’t Want to Miss

Blog post by Greg Whitney (3 minute read)

Vice President Greg Whitney describes what can be gained from embarking on a development assessment and the long-lasting impacts the process has on the health and success of your nonprofit organization.

Why do a development assessment?

Many non-profit leaders and development professionals are familiar with the benefits of doing a feasibility study prior to a large campaign, but few think about the many benefits and the impact that a timely development assessment can have on their ongoing fundraising efforts. The fact is, that passing up on a development assessment could deprive your organization of some major health benefits.   

A good development assessment supports the work of the development team and provides a plan that will provide a clear path to build the organization’s culture of philanthropy, whether that is reviving your organization from barely breathing to thriving – or moving it from good to great. A development assessment lays the foundation for the work of the development department and the organization’s leadership for years to come.   

Perfect times to consider a development assessment include when you are:

  • Experiencing development department and/or organizational leadership transitions 
  • Preparing to start or have just finished with strategic planning
  • Feeling stalled in moving fundraising efforts forward to a new level 
  • In a time of rapid growth and need to assess how to maintain and build upon all the relationships and goodwill that has come your way

3 Benefits of a Development Assessment

A development assessment not only identifies areas of opportunity and what needs to be shored up, but it also organizes that information through the findings uncovered in interviews and surveys of the organizations staff leadership, board, volunteer leadership and donors. This process is continued in a thorough review of the current staff and volunteer structures, database and other fundraising systems, general communications, cultivation and stewardship efforts, policies and other operations that are critical to fundraising success. 

1. A guide for your stakeholders. 

By organizing these findings into a report and addressing them through thorough recommendations, stakeholders in your organization can more easily envision their role in your work. It provides a map, so everyone knows the path for reaching the organization’s objectives and realizing a greater vision. There may be plenty of willingness to help your organization’s cause, but your supporters won’t be able to plug in without clear ideas of where you are going and what roles they can play in assisting with fundraising.  

For instance, a volunteer in your organization may not identify as an active fundraising stakeholder. A development assessment, shared throughout the organization, allows volunteers to see how they can easily engage to support fundraising. Volunteers are often informally already serving as successful connectors, visionaries and storytellers for your organization in the communities they live and work in. The development assessment helps educate and formalize these roles in the organization and provides pathways for stakeholders to expand their impact on behalf of the organization’s mission. 

2. An advocate for your development team. 

In our work as consultants we often hear from development leaders, “I have been saying that same thing for years, no one was hearing me!”  That’s where the development assessment comes in;  it’s a compelling case to affect change.

Along with the presentation by consultants, it is often “the voice that is heard”, and provides the opportunities to educate the CEO, Leadership team, board and other key volunteer leaders about the role they play in supporting successful philanthropy in partnership with the development team.  It often sets the stage for the development team to increase their organization’s culture of philanthropy and take their fundraising efforts to a new level.   

3. A fitness coach for your organization.

The development assessment is an active tool that cannot live on the shelf.  It should be referred to regularly by the development team, with metrics applied to performance reviews, and used for benchmarking progress by the CEO / leadership team, board and appropriate committees on at least a semi-annual basis.  Not only does it keep your existing team’s attention focused and fresh, but it’s also a tool that can be used to orientate new staff to the development plan and maintain clear work expectations for everyone involved.  

The bottom line: you deserve the best.  

The development assessment is not just a document. It’s a source of nourishment for your organization that needs to be replenished regularly. Some good practices for this maintenance include:

  • Review the development assessment at least semi-annually with the leadership of your development team and adjust accordingly based on progress toward the recommendations.
  • Be open to and adopt new recommendations and strategies where appropriate.
  • Share any changes and progress on the assessment throughout the organization. This will help to engage staff and volunteers regularly and continue to educate them on how their role will be key to continuing forward progress.

Investment in a development assessment should not be a once in every 10-year event. Just as strategic planning evolves and your organization cycles through seasons: leadership staff and board turnover happens, and organizations stall or experience rapid growth.

Allow your development assessment to change with you by investing in a regular check-in with a consultant and a re-evaluation process. Reexamination of the health of your development program through a new development assessment should be considered a regular and worthwhile investment in your organization’s long-term commitment to realizing your vision effectively. It takes work and maintenance, but a development assessment will get you closer to your goal faster and more sustainably.

You deserve tools that allow you to more effectively do the work you are passionate about. Set yourself up with professional recommendations that will engage key stakeholders in your development efforts, so your organization has the resources to flourish and create lasting impact for the community you serve. 


Learn more in this client spotlight with YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and hear about their experience in exploring their development assessment.