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Having trouble holding onto your fundraising staff? Here's why.

25 April 2014

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 April 25, 2014
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I recedonor-centered-votently finished Donor Centered Leadership by Penelope Burk of the Cygnus Research Group.

Have you read this book yet? If the $95 price tag puts you off, let me just tell you that this book is based on 30 years of research with over 2,000 people, and it’s got the facts and figures to make treating fundraising staff well seem like a REALLY GOOD IDEA.

I asked a local development director what she thought of the book, and she said, “You know, I’ve started and stopped reading it about 5 times now. It seems like the beginning is really logical, but then it goes into pure idealistic fantasy that most small, 1 person fundraising shops cannot achieve. You simply cannot call every donor or write a hand-written thank you note to every donor. You just can’t, if you’re a one person shop.”

In this book, I think there is a lot about bigger shops, but there is some small shop stuff too. For instance, on page 280, Burk writes this little gem,

“When you are the only fundraiser responsible for the entire Development operation, you run a small business.”

and then goes on to say,

“You are the boss, the planner, the marketing and branding specialist, the donor acquisition associate, the fundraising events coordinator, the major gifts officer, the data manager, the meetings secretary, the sounding board for the CEO and the cheerleader of the leadership volunteer team. Whether you possess an unusually high level of tolerance for stress or are simply crazy, it appears that you are attracted to work environments where you do absolutely everything. Among all the professional fundraisers we surveyed, sole practitioners appeared to enjoy the highest level of job satisfaction.” (emphasis mine).

I have often thought that being a one-person fundraising shop prepares you well for managing your own business, and Ms. Burk confirmed it! I do love running my own business and it is similar in scope to running a fundraising office. But what about those of us committed to working in the trenches at a nonprofit?

One of the sections I liked was entitled, “Improving Staff Retention is a Profit-Making Activity.”

And it talked about the REAL costs of replacing a fundraising staff member. I’m not going to give it all away, but the cost is steeper than you’d think, in many ways.

If your nonprofit has a hard time holding onto fundraising staff, based on Burk’s research, these might be some of the reasons why:

  • The salary is too low for the amount of responsibilities associated with the job, increasing the likelihood that only under-qualified people will apply for the position.
  • Salary levels and salary negotiation fail to take into account the basic logic of “You get what you pay for.”
  • A strategy that gives a larger salary to a fundraiser only after the previous fundraiser has left for a higher salary elsewhere demoralizes current staff
  • Lack of respect for fundraiser means a fundraiser may be compared to some idealized previous employee, not strategic fundraising goals
  • Lack of diversity in fundraising programs, focusing on time-intensive events instead of spreading the risk into many fundraising activities
  • Lack of strategy in decision-making (decisions to do a capital campaign or start a new program) from Board, CEO and other staff
  • Staff evaluation process is unprofessional, with criticisms saved up for the annual review
  • Supervisions style focusing on what fundraising staff are doing WRONG rather than what they are doing RIGHT.
  • Board shielded from responsibility for fundraising just because they are volunteers

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Is your nonprofit leadership guilty of some of these things?

Why do fundraisers say they leave nonprofits?

34% said it was an unrealistic timeframe for meeting fundraising goals
33% said it was a lack of direction on how funds would be used
32% said it was an attitude of “we have to have the money now”
27% said it was an insufficient fundraising budget
24% said it was additional responsibilities beyond fundraising
24% said it was resistance to innovation
14% said it was resistance to adopting better fundraising strategies.

How can you turn this around?

Hire for the future.

What does this mean?

1. You have to know where you are going. You have to plan out how much you want to raise from different fundraising methods in the next 5 years: for example in online giving, walkathon, major gifts, planned gifts and direct mail. And

2. Hire staff who demonstrate the ability to produce beyond their initial job description. You have to anticipate that when a fundraiser comes to work for you, they are going to want to be promoted. Perhaps in two and a half years, you will find they need a promotion or two. You need to plan for this. Don’t turn down a candidate for being “overqualified.” And on a related note,

3. Promote from within. You just want to see who else is out there? Are you sure? The lure of the unknown is powerful, but ultimately it can be a frustrating, expensive experience. Why not hire from within? It’s cheaper in many ways. The cost of your internal search is zero, and the cost of your external search could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. The time between old staff leaving and a new staff person starting can be zero, versus months or years with an external search. Lower productivity can be minimized with someone who already is familiar with your organization.

4. Do you really need to start from the bottom up in your fundraising department? If a negative culture has built up over time, house-cleaning does not guarantee that this will fix the issue. Fire everyone? That’s not going to fix a dysfunctional board, or dysfunctional executive director who doesn’t want to fundraise.

5. Invest in training. That means investing in fundraising training as well as management training for your staff. This will help staff be promoted from within. It also means they will stay longer because they see your nonprofit is committed to investing in them.

6. RESPECT your fundraising staff. How can you show respect for them? Don’t start new programs or campaigns without consulting them and their capacity to fundraise for those programs. Praise them. Notice what they’re doing right more often than what they’re doing wrong. Pay them more. STOP the culture of mandatory overtime. No, slackers do not leave at 5pm. Slackers are the ones who insist that people stay late and confuse staying late with being a good worker.

Want to read a sample chapter of Donor Centered Leadership?

Leave a comment in the next week with your email address, and I’ll send you the free chapter!

If you’re looking to hire someone to fundraise for you, this is an excellent book to read.

If you’re looking to get a fundraising job, it’s also excellent, it has resume templates as well as good interview questions, and how you can stand out from other job candidates.

If you’re looking to get new or better board members, there’s a whole section on this too.

And it talks about managing staff transitions too.

Worth the price tag? 100%!

binderstandingright(46)If you’d like to get into a better role, check out my new e-course! Get Your Dream Job

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