A Role for Development Committees

A Role for Development Committees


7 March 2023


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Does your land trust have a Development Committee? A Board committee whose job it is to oversee organizational fundraising? What does it do? How is it organized?

This post is about one way of thinking through these questions.

I believe that Development Committees facilitate fundraising activities to ensure that organizational goals are met or exceeded. In other words, they make sure there is enough money for everyone else to do the work they need to do.

That means Development Committees do five things:

  • Select and plan for the suite of fundraising activities the organization will deploy;
  • Understand the ROI (net) for each fundraising activity and ensure, on behalf of the Board, that the cumulative ROI will meet the long-term and in the short-term needs.
  • Plan for, establish, and monitor organizational relationships with members and donors at the highest levels of giving.
  • Manage and coordinate the donor engagement work of all Board directors.
  • Ensure that fundraising activities are funded (budgeted) adequately to be successful.


For most organizations, the Development Committee should have at least three Board members with one of them serving as Chair. Three ensures some minimal level of continuity and succession. More Board members are desirable up to about half the Board. For some smaller organizations, the Development Committee might be a committee of the whole.

Other individuals who are not directors could also serve on the Committee, recognizing that depth and breadth of outside experience in fundraising, communications, marketing, and event planning may be advantageous in the conduct of its work.

The presence of staff does not change the need for a Development Committee. And it shouldn’t add “supervision of the Development Director” to the list of responsibilities.

There may be sub-committees of the Development Committee that come and go to handle specific project campaigns or events.

Importantly, fundraising is a core-level responsibility of every Board director. This often gets confused with “asking,” and some Board directors run away as a result. But all Board directors can participate in building relationships with individual, corporate, foundation, and agency funders and to advocate for their organization back into their communities.

The Development Committee organizes that work.


So that brings me to the following list of Development Committee responsibilities:

  1. Create and monitor a framework for fundraising activities, including clear and specific roles for Board directors and staff and supported Board director responsibilities.
  2. Evaluate and monitor fundraising plans and calendars that meet the short-term and long-term funding needs of the Conservancy. The fundraising plans should clearly identify net return (ROI) expectations from each activity and donor group, and be accompanied by budgets adequate to produce those results.
  3. Establish and annually review a list of donors for individual engagement and stewardship attention. Plan the engagement and stewardship for each one, and assign appropriate Board level responsibility.
  4. Establish and oversee sub-committees charged with developing and executing specific fundraising initiatives or campaigns (e.g. a specific project campaign or a Gala).
  5. Work with individual Board directors to plan and fulfill their community “ambassador” responsibilities to help spread the word and recruit new members.
  6. Develop and monitor resource development policies and procedures including gift acceptance, acknowledgement, in-kind donation, donor record, and deaccession policies.
  7. Educate and communicate regularly with Board directors regarding development goals, achievements to date, and actions needed to ensure fulfillment.
  8. Regularly educate and facilitate the full Board of Directors’ understanding of Land Trust Standards and Practices specific to fundraising and donor relationships.


I have prepared a sample Development Committee Charter for reference on the Resources page. Use it as a template to draft one that suits your organization better.


If you have Development Committee that functions really well, I’d love to learn from your experience. What advice can you add to the above?


Cheers, and have a great week!



PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo by SUNFLAIR, courtesy pixabay.com


Share this!
  • A.B.
    Posted at 12:09h, 07 March

    Yes to everything you added, Creal. The set of responsibilities your committee holds is what I sought. I also share the hesitations you articulated — and the reasoning behind them. Thank you!

  • A.B.
    Posted at 11:59h, 07 March

    David, this article is terrific. Jim, I was the development director at an NPO with a lapsed development committee due (as best I could tell) to staff turnover. I took brief excursions into forming such a group, but each was more frustrating than the last for precisely the reason you cited. The committee saw its purpose as generating new (untried) ideas for the staff to execute. I had inherited an extraordinarily successful development plan that year after year generated the resources and tended the relationships we set out to. I needed more people-hours invested in proven strategies, not shiny new ideas. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s heartening to hear! And I look forward to hearing how you navigate this next bit. All the best to you!!!

  • Creal Zearing
    Posted at 11:34h, 07 March

    Jim, your comment relates directly to what I wanted to comment on after reading David’s post.

    I am the Development Director at Gathering Waters. I came on three years ago, replacing a previous development director. There was not an active dev committee when I came on but I’ve since put one together. Reading David’s blog post made my stomach twist for a few of the reasons. Some of those recommended roles for the dev committee I could never see having my dev committee perform. Not because they’re not competent, willing, and smart volunteers but more so because I wouldn’t expect them to have the expertise in fundraising needed to do some of those tasks nor the time to accomplish them adequately. Additionally, the time it would take for me to manage helping the committee facilitate some of those activities would be astronomical. As the paid, full-time staff member it makes sense that I would be responsible for many of the tasks described above as well as lead them and make the strategic decisions necessary to move forward with them. I would really hesitate to give some of those decisions to the committee at risk of creating a dynamic where it feels like I am reporting to the committee.

    What I currently ask of my committee is to facilitate board development-related education and board giving, help with development related policies, help to thank donors, and act as ambassadors and volunteers at events (and some day, I’ll have them help coordinate major donors events but we haven’t gotten there yet). There’s also definitely room for improvement when it comes to board members being ambassadors to individual donors but… that comes with time and energy on my end and I just haven’t gotten there yet.

    David, I wonder if you could respond to this more? There’s a lot in your post that I would really not want my committee to be in charge of and/or that I truly cannot imagine them being capable of (having the time or expertise) to do appropriately. Don’t get me wrong… I love my committee! They are rock stars for what I really need help with– the things mentioned above.

    Lastly, Jim, in relation to your comment about a “revolving door of people coming and going from that position” in relation to development directors with other orgs you’ve been a part of. From my perspective I’m inclined to think those people left for reasons related to pay, benefits, etc. which are the standard reasons professional dev staff tend to move on. I’d just be curious to know more what was going on in those situations.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 14:46h, 07 March


      Thank you for this thoughtful response. The idealized charter I shared was intentionally aspirational. Very few organizations have a Development Committee that functions this well (there are some! and Jim’s may be one). But that is not a reason to avoid striving in this direction.

      Without discussing the individual decisions you would “hesitate to give to the committee,” it’s hard to respond to your question more specifically. But let me offer an example. Many organizations have discussed or are discussing a capital campaign. Because capital campaigns are so organizationally intense, it makes sense that this would be a Board decision based on a recommendation from the Development Committee. That implies that the committee has engaged in the training and planning necessary to make such a recommendation with eyes wide open. That process could be facilitated by staff, but the decision should not be taken from Board ownership.

      Another example, from the opposite angle is a Gala fundraising event. The Development Committee should request and study the actual ROI from such an event and at least discuss the implications from an opportunity cost point of view. When the time comes to decide against doing the event again, it should come from a Development Committee recommendation.

      If you have Development Committee members who don’t “have the expertise in fundraising needed to do some of those tasks nor the time to accomplish them adequately,” I suggest building out a skills development training sequence that might be implemented over the course of several years. But again, I’m not sure where the question is coming from. I think asking Board members to be involved in making thank you calls is easy to implement. Asking them to call the same people every year takes this relationship-building exercise to another level.

      Love the conversation. Thanks for initiating it.

  • Jim Perry
    Posted at 08:34h, 07 March

    Perhaps the direct answer to the question, “Does your [organization] have a well-functioning development committee” depends on one’s perspective. How is well-functioning” defined?

    Wisconsin’s Green Fire has a very active one, meeting monthly to review the financial status and plan activities. As it’s co-chair, what I would add relates to the composition of the committee. All the committee members are board members. Lacking a staff member dedicated to development the ED has been the liaison as the responsibility for financial viability was on his shoulders. Each committee member had significant fund-raising expertise, and each has been willing to really work at the process, not just monitor it. None has been a development director in the past, but each has been at the top of their previous organization’s pyramids and successful. The members have led by example, as major donors.

    In other NPOs that I have been involved with (with a development staffer but without a development committee) the boards have had the approach that the on-the-groundwork is the responsibility of the development staff and it has led to a revolving door of people coming and going out of that position.

    We will be hiring a dedicated development director. It will be interesting to see if and how our role will change. I would be interested in hearing from other committee representatives who have a well-established fundraiser to see how they interact with their staff member.