How To Keep Your Best and Brightest Fundraisers
Written By: Mark Dillon, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President, Advancement Solutions
The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported on a poll, conducted by the Chronicle in conjunction with the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The subject? The revolving door in the nonprofit fundraising world. They found a startling 50% of those interviewed planned to leave their position within two years. Three out of ten planned to leave fundraising altogether.
Why the churn? It’s not what most people think. Only one-quarter cited pay as an issue. But 87% said they face overwhelming requirements to reach unrealistic dollar goals, they get little support from their chief executives, boards, and other colleagues, and they lack professional development opportunities.
These are issues that thoughtful, caring ministries can—and must—address.
Unrealistic Dollar Goals
It is disempowering when goals are thrusted upon the fundraising team without any discussion. Frankly, it happens too often. Boards or busy CEO’s or CFO’s often think, to balance our budget, we need XXX from our givers so that’s the number! But taking a little time to discuss the prospects with the CDO can infuse a dose of reality to leadership, while making sure the fundraising team’s perspective is heard.
In fairness, fundraisers can be overly cautious in their estimates—unconsciously hedging against the stress of lofty goals. But even if the outcome of this collaboration is a goal that is higher than seems likely to be achieved, it gives the fundraising team a sense that the leadership is in this with them in achieving the goal. Sometimes that makes all the difference in the morale and outlook of the team. In short, leadership taking time to listen to the front-line fundraisers is a factor in satisfaction and performance.
Little support from the Board, CEO, and Colleagues
The most productive and joyful fundraising teams we work with feel like the Board and CEO have their backs. The president/CEO recognizes that he/she is, in fact, the chief fundraising officer. If they truly do recognize this, they are much more likely to treat the Development office as part of a team rather than a remote unit soley tasked with the fundraising goal. Also, when a CEO recognizes exceptional effort or result, there is nothing more empowering than a sincere thank you. It can even be as powerful as a monetary “thank you.”
Boards can empower and encourage the fundraising team in several ways. First, by their own sacrificial giving to the organization. If they are modeling, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be as well,” it makes them more vested in fundraising outcomes and more motivated to contribute to the success of the goal. One of the most pleasing calls I would get toward the end of a fiscal year when serving as the CDO was from several Board members. “How are we doing toward our goal? How can I help?” When your Board is rooting for you to succeed, they give more and they connect more.
Lack of Professional Development Opportunities
Your best fundraisers want to grow as professionals. More responsibility. More input. Titles that recognize their true responsibilities. When I was a very young director of development, the president of my university allowed me to propose a budget for the coming year. I was thrilled that he showed that kind of respect for me (and no, he didn’t accept all my ideas)! But I haven’t forgotten it, after all these years.
If you can afford it, committing to one professional development conference a year is a way to tangibly affirm that you care about their development as a professional. Sometimes, giving a development person a project slightly outside their job description can boost morale and sense of self-worth. Asking a development officer to mentor a new hire tells them that you value their professionalism. Asking a member of the development team to give a brief report to the Development committee of the board on a particular initiative might seem unnecessary to the CDO but might make the year for your team member!
Most of our development people serve at our institutions because they are personally passionate about your mission. A little care and thoughtfulness can add joy and satisfaction to a job that is, by its nature, demanding. It will balance a high level of expectation with a high level of satisfaction. That makes the development person you value want to stay and add value to the work you are called to do.