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Kelly Segal Consulting

Program and development: how and why to build the bridge. Now.

When I get acquainted with a nonprofit, the divide (more like crevasse!) between the organization’s development side and programming side is something I can usually count on.  From an operational perspective, this divide makes no sense at all: programs cannot run without money raised from development efforts; and similarly, no programming means the organization provides nothing, serves no one, and development officers have nothing to “sell.” 


You need each other. You get the point.


More than once, I’ve asked staff members from both sides of the aisle to anonymously submit on paper what comes to mind when programmers see the word development, and when development professionals see program. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve facilitated this exercise, but each time I do it, I keep track of reactions I see again and again.


Common judgments program professionals make about their development colleagues:

  • Less educated
  • Qualified only for less intellectual, baser organizational work. 
  • Fancy and superficial
  • Higher salaries for less challenging work
  • “Beneath” those who carry out the mission and vision of the organization


Common judgements made by development professionals about their program colleagues:

  • Arrogant
  • Unhelpful
  • Uncooperative
  • Hard to put in front of funders
  • Think they are better than us
  • They get more respect


When researching this topic, one will find articles that pose the “Why can’t we all just get along?” question while actually answering that query by defending their side, and blaming the conflict squarely on the shoulders of the other. Not helpful.


The decision to do mission-driven work, whether it be in programming or development, is a noble one that requires intellectual horsepower, and a lot of grit. 


Program staff are at the battlefront, working in emotionally and/or physically taxing environments. They are first-line responders to some of the world’s most dire situations. Program staff must constantly be developing and rethinking mission-driven strategy to achieve more, solve more, help more. 


Development professionals are securing funding in often odd circumstances from frequently less than ideal individuals and institutions. Much development work is done in the off-hours of a typical workday (when funders and volunteers are available); their day often begins with early morning meetings and presentations; followed by a full workday in the office; then staffing or attending evening events.  There is often travel, and very little work-life balance, not to mention a strong stomach for a boatload of rejection


Jobs on both the program and development sides of the spectrum require education, time, training, and advanced problem-solving skills. Both are evaluated by achieving prescribed internal goals, while working within frameworks set by an often siloed, amorphous-seeming Board of Directors.  Lastly, both types of professional would be making much more money using their time and talent in the for-profit world!


Here’s what we need to do: 

  • All on-boarding of new professionals should include meetings with, and experiential opportunities in, the other department
  • Development professionals must make an effort to see how the money they raise is actually used, and this happening should be part of their yearly review matrix
  • Program professionals need to make the time and space to act as tour guides for development staff to regularly see their work
  • Program professionals should be included in prospect and donor meetings
  • Program staff must make themselves available to development staff for meetings, board presentations, and mission-education efforts. Participation as such should be part of their yearly review matrix.
  • Development professionals need to create opportunities to showcase program professionals and their work


If you are a professional, and systemic change from the top doesn’t seem likely any time soon, take initiative. Arrange coffee or lunch with colleagues on the “other side.” Ask a development professional if they’d be interested in seeing the program in action, and perhaps inviting along a funder. Ask a program professional if they’d be willing to join you in a prospect or funder meeting. Small efforts lead to incremental changes that add up over time. 

This is how a functional, healthy nonprofit organization thrives.

If your programming and development departments are in sync and working together, you will do good, much, much better.