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Development 101

by Putnam Barber, Idealist.org

Development — as the broad topic of finding resources for nonprofits' work is known — is a distinctive feature of this field.

Many nonprofit organizations are designed to operate "at a loss." These organizations charge less for their services than they receive in related fees or can support out of investment earnings. "Development" makes up the difference.

A gang of kids in a parking lot with buckets of soapy water and big "Car Wash Today" signs are doing development. Trained solicitors who call potential supporters on the telephone and invite them to make donations to a cause are doing development. So are web designers who put "donate now" buttons on nonprofits' Internet pages or craft email campaigns for social networking sites. As are auction chairs mobilizing volunteers to find donations for the annual gala.

The variety of approaches to development is limited only by the imagination and energy of the thousands of people around the world who do the work. They are volunteers, employees, and contractors. Their goal is to find the money and other gifts that are essential to the continued operation of hospitals, universities, mental health centers, dance theaters, after-school programs, beach clean-ups, medical research facilities and all the other kinds of organizations — quirky, obscure, commonplace and world-spanning — that make up the nonprofit sector.

A large professional group, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, offers certification, continuing professional education, fellowship and public policy advocacy to its members. AFP, with other fundraising professionals' organization, developed and published the Donor Bill of Rights. All members of AFP must accept this set of ethical standards; the association has a formal procedure for considering possible violations and, when warranted, taking disciplinary action.

There are similar organizations in many other countries who join together in The International Committee on Fundraising Organizations with headquarters in The Netherlands. A list of its members is on the website.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the challenge of raising funds for honorable and hardworking organizations is made even greater by the fact that unethical scammers prey on the generosity of donors with deceptive appeals and outright frauds. The Better Business Bureau operates The Wise Giving Alliance in the United States to assist donors to avoid responding to dishonest appeals. Many states have official charities regulators who provide access for donors to registration statements of fundraising nonprofits and professional solicitors (sometimes called "commercial fundraisers"). There is a list of these state agencies on the website of The National Association of State Charity Officials. Many of them also offer advice to donors about how to avoid being misled. These state officials and the Federal Trade Commission investigate and prosecute dishonest and fraudulent fundraising.

Fortunately, though, the vast majority of fundraising appeals are made by organizations that do necessary and valuable work of all sorts and deliver benefits of all sorts in communities in every part of the globe.