The nonprofit sector isn’t immune from The Great Resignation. In fact, fundraisers may be particularly likely to choose to leave their positions.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that 50% of fundraisers thought about quitting their positions last year, according to an Association of Fundraising Professionals survey. Nonprofit and fundraising roles can be extremely stressful. The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article in August of 2019 showing that 30% of fundraisers plan to leave the field entirely in the next two years! With statistics like these, it seems urgent to explore how we can hire and retain great fundraisers in this environment.

 

GET YOUR BOARD ON BOARD

One of the biggest challenges for fundraisers is working with CEOs and board members who just don’t understand the reality of fundraising. Boards need to adjust their expectations to what is reasonable and focus on what can actually be raised with their constituency and not pull numbers for goals out of thin air. Good fundraisers know what is possible and what is random, pie-in-the-sky thinking. They do not want to work at organizations that will hold them to account for goals they structurally won’t be able to reach.

These pressure-cooker fundraising environments end up costing your organization tons of money, too. Share this with your volunteer leadership: “The average amount of time a fundraiser stays at his or her job: 16 months. The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement: $127,650”. That’s money that could be saved for the institutions we work so hard to support if leadership can reduce the pressure, help more, and stop setting unreasonable (and underfunded) goals.

PAY THEM FAIRLY

I would be remiss if I glossed over the importance of fair compensation in an article about staffing. I highly recommend accessing the Association of Fundraising Professionals annual Compensation and Benefits Report. This report is full of outstanding information that will inform your hiring and retention strategies. For instance, the fact that seeking career advancement and higher pay are the top two reasons that fundraisers leave their positions. This report also gives you a comprehensive look at equivalent pay for various positions within the nonprofit fundraising world. Make sure your organization pays within the guidelines and, if possible, pays competitively.

HIRE FOR INTEGRITY

When you are interviewing, you must assess the candidate’s level of integrity in order to hire fundraisers that you can trust to do the job and do it ethically and well. I always ask candidates to tell me about a time when they showed an expectational level of integrity. I’m not looking for vague answers either. Once, a candidate told me about how she blew the whistle on a back-alley ticket selling ring at a Chuck E. Cheese she worked at. The story was riveting and clearly showed her trustworthiness, ethics, and bravery. I hired her and never regretted it. You cannot train for integrity. Make sure your candidates have it before you make them a representative of your non-profit.

 

HIRE FOR ORGANIZATION

Organization is a skill set and some folks just don’t have competency in this area. It’s not a personality trait or a style. Staying organized is a skill. If you aren’t organized, you simply cannot be excellent at fundraising or stewardship. Organization can make or break fundraising campaigns.

Ask your candidate for specific examples of how they stay organized. It’s such a revealing question. If they give a vague answer or say something like “I use sticky notes,” that’s a dealbreaker. Their answer should be specific and robust and reflect a system of multiple tools to keep their efforts on track.

Great fundraising is timely and proactive. Make sure your next fundraising hire has the skills to execute in an organized way.

TRUST YOUR PEOPLE

With 84 percent of fundraisers saying they feel “tremendous pressure to succeed” in their role, we must loosen our draconian commitment to metrics as the top measurement of a fundraiser’s performance (Chronicle 2). Yes, you hire them to meet goals and great fundraisers must be able to ask and close gifts. But are you also assessing qualitative data from your donors about how these fundraisers make them feel? Do they help your donors feel valued? Connected to mission? Like they are a partner in the work? Frankly, that’s priceless. If you lose a fundraiser like that because they came in a little bit short in number of meetings and phone calls, that’s a tragedy of shortsightedness.

STEWARD YOUR EMPLOYEES

Fifty-five percent of fundraisers say they “often feel unappreciated” in their work. Are we applying the principles of stewardship to our employees? Do we recognize and acknowledge our fundraisers for their efforts? Do we show in small and large ways that we care about them as people? Do we make sure that they always know how their efforts at work contribute to mission? We ask ourselves these questions about our donors: why aren’t we asking it about our employees?

Once you’ve asked the question, ask your fundraisers what they want and need in terms of stewardship. And don’t forget to apply your own creativity to the process as well. It only takes a little effort to make work meaningful and fun!

 

CREATE A CULTURE OF SUCCESSION PLANNING

Seeing an unpromising future at a job can stir a fundraiser’s restlessness, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy survey results. At the jobs they left most recently, fundraising staff were likeliest to be dissatisfied with their prospects for promotion (85 percent) or a lack of succession planning (83 percent).

Establishing the expectation that everyone will document their work and cross-train with others not only sets your office up for sustainability in the face of turnover, but it also can demonstrate your commitment to succession planning. By undertaking process documentation and cross-training, you are readying the office for top performers to be promoted at some point in the future, even if that promotion is with another organization. However, you need to make this intention clear to your staff. You want them to be able to set up their work so they can advance, but help them understand that it makes your organization stronger as well. Ironically, this commitment to the long-term growth and success of your fundraisers can make them stay longer at your organization.

EVERYONE IS A STEWARD

Don’t limit the expectation for excellent stewardship of donors to your fundraising staff. Every person at your organization: from program staff to administrative and finance staff, they all perform stewardship in every interaction they have with donors. There is no room for employees who have a mindset of “It’s not my job” when it comes to donor relations. Set the expectation that while fundraisers will lead the office in stewardship, it’s everyone’s job.

There’s nothing that makes an organization stand out more than excellent, top-performing staff. Fundraising staff are usually your front-line, external facing employees. Hire well and build a culture of stewardship to retain the best!

 

With over 20 years of fundraising experience, Jessica has worked for the Starr King School for the Ministry, The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation, The University of South Carolina, RuffaloCODY, and the Libertarian National Committee. As a consultant, Jessica provides her fundraising services to nonprofits and higher education organizations. You can find her at Real Deal Fundraising.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE, MA

Fundraising Success Coach

Humanitru clients experience an average active donor growth of 69%

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