New Study: CDO Confidential - What CDOs Want You To Know About Retention


A National Study on Nonprofit Chief Development Officer Retention

A newly released study CDO Confidential: What CDOs Want You to Know about Retention reveals that unrealistic expectations set by management have reduced the average Chief Development Officer (CDO) tenure to one to two years. 

Other factors include a lack of sufficient resources and cooperation among CDOs, CEOs and Boards. Campbell & Company, a national nonprofit consulting and executive search firm, recently completed a nationwide survey to understand the reasons behind this trend. CDO Confidential received responses from more than 400 Chief Development Officers and Chief Executive Officers to gain multiple perspectives. The sample included organizations with a wide range of missions, budgets, staff sizes and geographic areas.  

“This study shows that the CDO retention is not an insulated issue,” says Marian Alexander DeBerry, Director, Executive Search at Campbell & Company. “Shorter tenure in leading development roles not only leads to difficulty maintaining donor relationships, but also hinders the development and execution of long-term fundraising strategies. The implications of having short tenure are vast ranging from attracting and evaluating talent to onboarding to succession planning and require a wider, more in-depth dialogue with all parties involved.”  

Key findings include:

The report, CDO Confidential: What CDOs Want You to Know about Retention describes four main challenges:

Short tenure

Fifty-two percent (52%) of CDO served one to two years in their most recent position, confirming anecdotal evidence of shorter tenures.  

Unrealistic expectations

CDOs (75%) and CEOs (62%) cited unrealistic expectations are the number one reason behindCDO turnover.  

Reasons for departure

Twenty-eight percent (28%) of CDOs cited their organization’s lack of understanding of development as a reason for their most recent departure.  

Inadequate resources

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of CDOs felt they did not have the resources to do their job effectively, and twenty-nine percent (29%) of CDOs indicated professional development as their primary need.  

Click here to access the complete set of CDO reports and conversations.

Campbell & Company is holding a series of conversations to discuss strategies to lengthen CDO tenure. Tips and strategies from these conversations will be released in future articles.

  • On Wednesday, April 24, at 12:00 PM CST Andrew Smerczak-Zorza, Consultant, Executive Search, led a panel discussion regarding the results of the survey during a Campbell & Company webinar.

  • On Wednesday, May 22, from 8:00 - 10:30 AM CST, Marian Alexander DeBerry, Director, Executive Search together with CompassPoint, will discuss the findings of two independent surveys, CDO Confidential and UnderDeveloped, during a luncheon at the Donors Forum.

Additional Resources

About Campbell & Company

Campbell & Company’s Executive Search team connects organizations with visionary leaders who can drive continued growth. We pay careful attention to the nuances and complexities of each client and draw on our extensive networks to find the ideal fit. Campbell & Company maintains offices in Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, DC. For more information, please call toll-free (877) 957-0000, email or visit

Talent Management Strategies, Campbell & Company Research Findings, Executive Search

Sarah Barnes

As an Online Fundraising Consultant, Sarah Barnes works with organizations to optimize their online presence through analyzing data that ultimately reveals strategies for the future. In her work with clients, Sarah most values opportunities to review and assess online data from multiple channels such as an organization’s website, social media channels and email marketing initiatives, to inform decisions, as well as working closely with organizations to brainstorm and identify and optimize strategic online fundraising initiatives.