The Why and How of Investing in Development Operations

by Suzanne Battit and Emily Ames

Posted December 2, 2021

By now, your fundraising plans for fiscal year 2022 are already underway or are just about to begin. As you progress through the year, we encourage you to consider development operations as a key component of a healthy, robust and sustainable fundraising program. Keep reading to discover why and how to invest in development operations… 

Investing in development operations is critical because…


Capturing, managing, and analyzing the right data is key to effective donor communications and strategy.

Historical and accurate data allows you to fully understand donor behavior, trends, and patterns – and most importantly, identify opportunities where you can maximize return. When your database is well-maintained, fundraising staff can easily review a prospective donor’s participation in any past annual giving or special campaigns, attendance at events or programs, and any notes from previous meetings or interactions with other staff members. This will help inform the strategy and approach for meeting with the prospective donor.

Additionally, clean data supports an effective system to steward and retain donors.

For example, if a donor recently gave an annual gift, then their gift should be properly entered into the database. This will ensure a couple things: 1) that the development team is then prompted to send the donor a thank you note and acknowledgement of their gift, and 2) that the donor is not mistakenly asked to make a gift again within the next few months. When development operations are lacking, there is more leeway for human error, which can naturally have a negative impact on donor experience and retention.  

Strong development operations helps ensure the ongoing success of your team – even when dealing with turnover among staff.

Strong development operations bolsters institutional knowledge and enables your team to have the tools and information they need to be successful – whether it’s their first year on the job or they’ve been there for many more. Additionally, robust development operations helps to make the fundraising-related work of the finance team much more manageable. Strong development operations teams will collaborate effectively with finance and make for a very effective partnership.

Last but not least, being able to access and analyze data is critical to identifying opportunity and effective long-term planning and decision-making.

The more your vision and goals can be grounded in reliable, clean data, the more likely your organization is to achieve success. See our recent article “The 5 Things to Include In Your Nonprofit’s Annual Fundraising Plan” for more information on the kind of data you should be collecting and reviewing when mapping out your team’s goals and priorities.


Your organization can invest in bolstering development operations by…


Conducting a thorough and comprehensive review of your development systems on an annual basis.

Consider the following questions as starting points:

  • Did everything go according to plan this past year? What went well and what issues need to be addressed?
  • Are there any new innovations or technologies that could make development operations more efficient and effective?
  • Do you need to hire someone in a development operations role? And/or do current staff need any training in the realm of development operations?

Be prepared to address any software and/or training needs with dedicated budget and outside consulting services, as needed.

Creating—and ensuring staff adhere to—clearly defined data entry protocols from day one.

When your organization adopts a new fundraising database, it is critical to provide training to all users to ensure the system will be used most effectively. Many fundraising database companies will provide training to staff, and there are also a number of database consultants that can be hired to provide additional assistance during the onboarding months. Investing in training and in creating clear protocols from the start will make your database and team more effective, and help ensure the accuracy of constituent profiles, donor giving history, and financial reporting.

Regularly cleaning your data.

If your organization has been using the same database for five or more years, it is important to conduct a data clean-up. This may include merging duplicate records, reviewing address and contact information for updates, ensuring donors are credited properly, and when appropriate, deleting records that are no longer useful (for example, it’s ok to delete a prospect from 20+ years ago that never gave to your organization).

Creating a sense of data ownership among your development team.

Recognize that fundraising staff (and not IT/systems staff) should be the ones to own fundraising data as they’re the primary users. Setting this expectation will encourage your development staff to pay close attention to the completeness, consistency, and accuracy of the data.

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We engage with nonprofit leaders through fundraising, campaign and interim management services to identify opportunities and tactics that create the strongest, most sustainable philanthropic practice for your organization. Contact us to learn more.