Abbi Haggerty

Mazarine Treyz: Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and I am so pleased today to be interviewing Abbi L. Haggerty, PhD who will be speaking at the Virtual Fundraising Career Conference this April. She’s actually going to be speaking about her PhD research, which I’m just so excited about. So I’m going to let her introduce herself a little bit. Ms. Abbi Haggerty, who are you and what do you do?

Abbi L. Haggerty: Hi, thank you. So I am the director of development for the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence, which is located in Richmond, Virginia, and we are a nonprofit that’s a resource center for other nonprofits. So we offer professional development for those who are working in the sector. We do volunteer training and management for other nonprofits. We have an online communications platform, and we also do organizational assessments and governance training.

MT: Wow.

AH: I’ve been in the nonprofit fundraising field for almost 13 years now. I’ve been with the Partnership for about a year and a half. But I’ve also had jobs in development working for a performing arts center, a science museum, and a community college. So very excited to be in this profession, and also I’m now sharing it with students at Virginia Commonwealth University. I just started teaching there this semester and also joined the board this month of our local AFP chapter and will be chairing our advocacy committee. So I enjoy being a practitioner in the field as well as sharing knowledge with the community and being an advocate for the fundraising profession.

MT: I love that, Abbi. So what did you research for your PhD?

AH: So I was really intrigued by the findings of the UnderDeveloped report that was released by Compass Point. For my dissertation topic, I explored the turnover intentions of fundraisers. So I looked at why they’re leaving the positions that they have and why they’re actually leaving the field of fundraising altogether, and what I found was that organizational culture plays the largest role in fundraisers’ decisions to leave their current position. So when their values don’t match the organization’s values, they’re more likely to look for another job. For fundraisers who are leaving the field of fundraising, it was a mismatch between their skill sets and the requirements of the job they had. So when fundraisers feel that they’re not able to perform their jobs well, they’re more likely to seek out a different career. I think these findings really speak to the need for us to advocate more for fundraising as a true and respected profession so that we can build better systems for fundraising internally within our organizations, and externally develop and access the training and education opportunities that we need to excel in our careers.

MT: Wow. So why did you choose this research topic?

AH: Well, I thought it would help me better understand my profession and some of the challenges it currently faces. Also, turnover in the fundraising field has really received a lot of attention over the past couple of years, and I wanted to explore what factors were related to the turnover that we’re seeing as well as just the perception that people have that turnover is so high in this profession. So my dissertation allowed me to take national data that had been collected from fundraisers and dig deeper into what was driving their intentions to leave their position and leave the field. It’s also allowed me to learn some fundraisers in my local community, as I share this information from them and learn their stories.

Fundraising Career Conference 2016

MT: Wow. So I’ve been an advocate about fundraising turnover for a long time, and we’re definitely going to be talking about that at the conference. That’s one of the big reasons that I do put this together, because I saw the UnderDeveloped report by Compass Point, and I’m really grateful that that also inspired you. So what are you teaching at the Fundraising Career Conference in 2016?

AH: I am going to be talking about the important role that values and fit play in fundraisers finding a job that’s right for them. So by that, I mean that the fit between a fundraiser’s personal values and the culture of the organization for which they work seems to be one of the best indicators that we have that fundraisers will find a job that they enjoy, and research has consistently found that when the person organization fit, is what it’s called, is present, that people stay with an organization longer than when that fit is missing. So my research on fundraisers specifically highlighted this fit between values and organizational culture, and during the Fundraising Career Conference, my session will help people identify what they value and how to know whether their values match the organizational culture of a future employer. So the goals of the presentation are to help fundraisers connect with information and tools that will help them find happiness in their fundraising careers by choosing positions in organizations that match and support their personal values.

MT: Wow. You know, I often advocate for people when they’re applying for jobs to look at, you know, do you really like this mission or not? And try to make a story in your cover letter around how you’re connected to this mission. But what you’re saying is go beyond that. Go deeper. Look at who you are, why you do what you do, and see if it connects to what this nonprofit does.

AH: Exactly. So most nonprofits are doing very good work in the community, work that’s really needed, and I think sometimes we assume because we’re going into a sector that’s full of good work, that we just assume the culture is what we’re going to want to have. But really, organizations operate so different internally that it’s important to take the time to go beyond the mission statement and really get to know how the organization operates.

MT: Amen to that. I remember being at a nonprofit whose mission I really did believe in. It was a social justice organization, helping African Americans in various ways, and I really believed in the mission and I wanted to enjoy working there. But there was a big disconnect between what the values of the CEO were, and my values. So I didn’t last too long there, unfortunately.

AH: I know. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for the organization, and really if we would just take a little bit more time upfront to get to know the people we’ll be working with and spend some time in that environment, it might give us some more clues about what that culture is.

MT: Yeah. At that time, I was just so desperate for a job, I think I probably didn’t even want to do that because I just wanted to keep my head down. But I wanted to get to the next question. Some of our listeners may have read the Donor Centered Leadership book by Penelope Burk and Cygnet research or the UnderDeveloped report. How does your research complement this research?

AH: That’s a great question. So all of this research has tried to provide a better understanding of the challenges that are currently facing the fundraising profession, and really to identify practical steps that we all can take to address these challenges. So I know Burk’s research on turnover highlights some of the common internal management issues like unrealistic fundraising goals, impatience for raising money, not having access to the resources and funding you need for a successful fundraising program. And in the UnderDeveloped report, we learned about organizations lacking what they refer to as a culture of philanthropy, and when people throughout the organization are committed to fundraising, it’s really central to the mission of the organization, and the support and systems are in place to make that fundraising successful. So in my research, I was able to take the data that was collected for the UnderDeveloped report and use regression analysis, fancy statistical term, to see which variables were actually significant in driving turnover intentions. So that’s how I came to realize that organizational culture is such a critical factor.

MT: Wow, wow. I love that. That’s really important, and just FYI for those listening or people reading, that Linda Lysakowski is going to be speaking at both the Next Level Conference and the Fundraising Career Conference on how to create a culture of philanthropy. So if you’ve already read the UnderDeveloped report and you’re interested in that, we will have a session on that too. So Abbi, did you have any new or surprising findings in your research?

AH: I did. I think some of the most surprising findings were actually the factors that did not show up as significant. So for example, we were talking about an organization’s mission a little bit earlier. Passion about an organization’s mission was not significant in driving turnover intentions. Also salary wasn’t, and the relationship that fundraisers have with their executive directors. But that’s not to say that those are not important factors. It was just in this particular research, it was the fit between values and culture that was the leading factor. But I think I would love to see some additional research in this area to further test these variables and really to get a complete understanding of turnover intentions. So I think the more we can build on each other’s research and share our findings and talk about it, the more we’ll really understand this issue.

MT: What was the statistical sample that you had for your research? I forget. How many people did you interview?

AH: So there were about 1,800 fundraisers, and it was a secondary data analysis. So Compass Point along with the Haas Jr. Fund did the original study, and they were very kind enough to share their dataset with me so that I could dig a little bit deeper into the data they had collected.

MT: Fascinating. Wonderful. So you didn’t have to do it all on your own. That’s good.

AH: Exactly, which is great, and it’s so nice when we can use the datasets among researchers, to share them and really it builds kind of a robust understanding of the information that’s available.

MT: So what will people learn if they come to your session?

AH: So I’ve kind of highlighted five key things that I hope participants will learn. The first one is just how to determine the values that are important to us personally and professionally. The second one would then be how to match up those values with the culture of an organization. So the third one would then be how to determine what type of culture an organization has before you accept a position, and that’s important for fundraisers to do. There’s also some things that are important for other people in nonprofits to do. So the fourth one would be how nonprofit leaders, managers and HR staff can learn about the role of fundraisers, really understand what they do, what types of resources they need and the support they need, and learn how to provide a supportive organizational culture for them. So the fifth one would be then together, how can we all support each other in the fundraising profession?

Fundraising Career Conference 2016

MT: I love that. So when you talk about values, what do values mean to you?

AH: To me, I would say values embody how you live your life and what other people perceive is important to you. So the values you hold tend to govern how you treat other people, how you make important decisions about your future, and really how you show up in the world. Your values are embedded deep within you and I think play a really important role in your satisfaction, whether that’s with life in general, your relationships, or your job.

MT: You’re right. I’ve heard it said by a couple of authors that a virtue is a value in action. I kind of like that, you know? Because it’s like, you think about if you’re going to be deliberate with your response to life and not just be reacting, how can you truly live with your responses always reflecting what you most deeply hold to be true.

AH: Exactly.

MT: Yeah, and I think a lot of us get into nonprofit work because we want that, but we’re not necessarily taught to express or articulate our values in the world that we live in.

AH: Yeah. We actually did an exercise at work in one of our staff meetings where we had to share a story with another person of something that had happened in our career recently that we were really proud of, and based on that story, the person we were telling it to had to say back to us what they thought our key values were that were highlighted in that story. So it was really interesting to see what someone else thought your values were based on what you were proud of and what you chose to share. So that was kind of a fun exercise to have people reflect your values back to you.

MT: Wow. Well, I think we’re kind of already answering this, but I mean, why do you think it’s so important to find your values? What’s the goal of that?

AH: Yeah, I think it’s what you were saying earlier, that when you’re able to identify your values and articulate what they mean to you, you’re better able to make decisions about the things in life that will make you happy. You’re also in a better position to share these values with others, such as in an interview for a new position. So that you can ensure that your values align with the culture in which you are placing yourself, and with colleagues with whom you’ll be working.

MT: That is so right. But how could you determine an organization’s values before you take the job? Are you going to be sharing questions to ask, or how do you do that?

AH: Yeah. So I think fundraisers should definitely make sure that they’re carefully examined their values first, and then they can compare them to things like the job description for which they’re interviewing, the structure of the organization, policies, procedures, the physical presence. All of these things will give you some clues into the culture that you might be entering. The culture depends on the people who are working there, and so meeting as many of your potential new colleagues as possible in their day-to-day environment is critical, and with nonprofits this also means maybe an opportunity to meet with board members and volunteers and financial supporters. I think that can really tell you a lot about the culture of an organization. Since we know that fundraisers who feel that they’re not matched up with the culture, they might feel isolated in their roles, they’re more likely to leave. It’s really critical in this profession to understand culture during the interview process. So just ask to talk to as many people involved in the organization as you can and find out how things get done, and don’t make assumptions about it. So we’ll definitely in the presentation walk through some key questions to ask and people to talk to, and some things that might give you a clue as to the culture.

MT: I love that. I can think of right off the bat something that should have been a red flag for me in the last job that I had. We had like, a guy who had a CEO title but the development person was only called Senior Development Officer. That was one of the last jobs I had. What it meant was – I mean, and this isn’t necessarily true of every nonprofit. But what I realized later on as I had the job, what it meant was they didn’t want to give me any input into making the budget or making the expectations for the fundraising program. Because they’re like, well, you’re just a lackey. I’m like, well, actually I am the entire program and you need to listen to me when I tell you what is realistic and what is not, you know.

AH: It’s like the perfect example.

MT: Right. So title is important. If they say you’re Chief Development Officer, then they’re maybe going to treat you a little differently. You don’t want to assume that, but they’re going to maybe give you a little bit more weight than if you’re a development manager or development associate or development assistant.

AH: Yeah, that’s a very good point. Sometimes we’re so eager to find a new position that we don’t pay attention to those little things that really could have clued us in.

MT: Yeah, exactly. It was eye-opening. But I mean, when we’re early in our careers, we don’t think to ask what does this role title really mean and what does that mean for the kind of respect I’m going to get here? So is there anything else that you’d like to add about your presentation or your work or anything like that?

AH: I think I’m just really looking forward to speaking at the Fundraising Career Conference, and I hope the research will be of value to those in fundraising who might just be entering the profession or who are looking for their next job. I’m just as excited as they are to learn from the other speakers and to be a participant of the conference as well. So thank you for offering this wonderful resource for us.

MT: Oh, my pleasure, Abbi. I am just so grateful that you’re going to be presenting your research, and people are going to be able to really learn from you what it takes to really find the right fundraising job for them. I think if you have the luxury of being able to choose, if you have the luxury of time, they could really learn a lot from you just about red flags and also the things that really will make them happy in a job. So thank you so much for offering this. How can people get in touch with you?

AH: They can use my college email, leinwandan@vcu.edu.


Fundraising Career Conference 2016

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