Independent Review of Development Systems Can be Helpful

Independent Review of Development Systems Can be Helpful

Consider the following:

• Could your fundraising activities better meet the program needs of your organization?

• Would you like to increase Board participation in your fundraising programs?

• Would a baseline by which to measure future fundraising performance be helpful?

• Do you need to diversify your funding stream?

• Are you preparing for Strategic Planning?

• Are you considering a capital campaign or endowment campaign in the next few years?

If you answered YES to one or several of these questions, you might consider a Development Audit.

Most non-profit organizations think about an “audit” as a necessary evil, with CPAs combing through the finances, offering opinions as to the state of the organization, and making recommendations about improvements needed. Afterward however, their work is appreciated in subtle ways. The Board has greater confidence in the overall organizational management, funders have a better understanding of how the organization works and the degree to which it is positioned for success, and deficiencies (and inefficiencies) are addressed and improved.

A Development Audit works the same way and offers many of the same benefits. Similar to a financial audit, or an academic peer review, the Development Audit is an independent review of everything an organization is doing to raise money. It looks at all gifts received and analyzes individual, corporate, and foundation activity and results over the most recent 5-year period. The audit considers all essential development

  • systems (communications, recruitment, solicitation [including grants], renewal and retention, stewardship, and member events and benefits),
  • involvement (staff, Board, other volunteer, direct mail and personal), and
  • results (funds raised, grants secured, renewal rates, and upgrade results).

The end product is a written report delivered initially in draft form and then presented formally for the Board. The report includes both long-term and short-term recommendations.

A Development Audit is NOT the same thing as a Feasibility Study. The audit is very similar to the internal assessment portion of a Feasibility Study, but the latter also includes conversations with donors and adds both considerable time and expense to the work.

There are several important benefits to Development Audits beginning with helping your Board members better understand fundraising systems and their role, as board members, in raising money. The Development Audit provides a baseline document from which to measure improving results over time. It can recommend small changes that save time and money without compromising results. And the Audit can help refocus organizational volunteer and staff time on the most productive efforts, such as major donor development.

When I do a development audit, I look for ideas that can help raise more money immediately. I recommend proven strategies and practices that can promote long-term growth and encourage Board involvement in fundraising. Several of my clients have increased their fundraising results many times that of my fee in the first few months.

But is hiring a consultant absolutely necessary? No. The consultant brings objectivity, years of professional experience, and current information from other organizations. But of these benefits, it is the objectivity that is the most critical. Find someone in your local community with fundraising experience and walk them through everything you are doing to raise money. Or trade the audit service with a sister organization where you conduct the audit for them and they return the favor.

However you get it done, your current donors are your most important asset, and the time you spend reflecting on how they experience your organization is time well spent. The Development Audit provides an important structure for that reflection.

As always, your comments, responses, and questions are welcomed here and by email at



Photo Credit: Walt Kaesler

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