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Four ways to boost fundraiser job satisfaction

This article was co-authored by Senior Consultant Cassie Mesko and Vice President Laura McGarry.


It has been dubbed the “Great Resignation” as organizations of all types faced record-high levels of staff turnover over the last twelve months. But increasingly, researchers and thought leaders are coming to understand this moment in time as the “Great Rethink.”

The global pandemic, social unrest, economic turbulence, and the shifting nature of work itself have caused individuals to rethink their relationships with their employers and their careers holistically. Nonprofit organizations are no exception, and in an industry known for high turnover even prior to the events of 2020, the costs of losing staff are only rising.

In her book Donor Centered Fundraising, Penelope Burk calculates that the departure of a senior fundraiser can cost the organization up to 9x the salary of that individual in time, resources, and lost opportunities. This presents compounding challenges as remaining staff are burdened with additional responsibilities, and leaders must devote time and effort not only to delivering on the mission of the organization, but also to hiring and onboarding new staff.

Nonprofits often assume that fundraisers will stay in a role because they are passionate about the organization’s mission. Commitment to a mission is important, but it is no longer sufficient to retain talent. It is crucial for nonprofits to put thoughtful and strategic measures in place to increase satisfaction, and therefore retention, of their most valuable assets – their people.

Fundraisers are not only looking for positions where they can be a part of something bigger; they are also looking for roles that fit within their lifestyles and employers that promote a positive work culture. The pandemic made it possible for many individuals to work the hours that made the most sense either for their families or for their natural work rhythms (those night owls or early birds). Fundraisers want to see this level of flexibility moving forward.

What can we do about this trend? How can we retain and recruit frontline fundraising staff and increase their overall job satisfaction? Here are four areas to consider as you seek to support and motivate your team.

Evaluate organizational culture

Don’t be so quick to assume that salary and benefits are what is causing your employees to seek greener pastures. A 2022 study from the MIT Sloan School of Management found that toxic work culture was the top predictor of turnover during the Great Resignation. Similar research from the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance found that lack of career growth and dissatisfaction with organizational culture were significant drivers of resignations.

Conversely, developing a culture of belonging, inclusivity, and growth can fuel employee satisfaction long-term. When employees feel safe to speak up and bring their authentic selves to work, morale and productivity increase.

Senior leadership should lead by example to promote a culture of openness and transparency. Model empathy and active listening, making sure to follow up on staff concerns. Pay close attention to team dynamics in group settings. Do some team members steal the spotlight, while others keep quiet? Ensure that everyone has opportunities to contribute by meeting individually with every member of the team on a regular basis. Even better, make the conversation less formal by meeting over lunch or coffee.

Rethink metrics or goals and recognize performance

Metrics help leaders evaluate progress and make informed decisions, but if metrics become the sole focus, they can distance fundraisers from the mission and their purpose. Metrics can also lead to unhealthy competition between team members, creating a culture of fundraiser possessiveness and distrust that is ultimately detrimental to donor relationships with the organization long-term.

It is important to remember that metrics are a means to an end, not the end itself. Metrics should help fundraisers understand their roles in helping the organization achieve its mission. Approach metrics creatively and apply them broadly to keep fundraisers engaged in the work and excited about hitting their next goal.

Here are some suggestions for creating metrics that help you move the needle and keep your team motivated.

Evaluate the metrics you monitor in “the new normal”

In the post-pandemic world, phone calls, virtual meetings, and other forms of communication beyond an in-person meeting should be considered. Set goals and metrics that look beyond monetary goals and look at identification goals. Prospect pools might look different today than they did two years ago as many organizations gained new donors or lost others. Monthly targets should shift to recognize these changes.

Develop metrics collaboratively with staff

Leveraging a “bottom-up” approach, design metrics that are reflective of the stages and maturity of portfolios. Push staff to achieve a “stretch” goal but ensure that achieving this goal is met with specific, sought-after recognition – a bonus, salary increase, or professional growth opportunity.

Celebrate milestones achieved collectively and individually

Set a “team goal” for your entire fundraising shop, with individual goals for frontline fundraisers. Recognize how non-frontline staff contribute to the overall team goal and celebrate these team members just as enthusiastically. And while public acknowledgment may not appeal to all individuals, recognition in some form is critical to ensuring retention.

Don’t just talk about flexibility; promote flexibility

The pandemic has shown us that working from home is just as productive, if not more productive, than working in an office. If a fully remote work culture is not an option (which is the case in many nonprofit environments), a hybrid approach may actually provide the most impact on fundraiser satisfaction.

Possible scenarios could be two or three days per week working from home, or even flexibility after working weekend events or traveling. Organizations also must be cognizant that parents are not the only employees who might benefit by working from home. To avoid perceptions of preferential treatment, you should create flexible work policies that benefit all employees equally.

In a hybrid or remote environment, leaders must set and manage expectations regarding electronic communication – email, text messages, Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc. One of the most impactful emails I have received from a member of the Graham-Pelton executive team read, “I am catching up on unread e-mails over the weekend, but please do not feel the need to respond until working hours on Monday.” Setting clear parameters about working hours and expectations alleviates the pressure on employees to be ‘on’ 24 hours a day.

Have career conversations early and often

Don’t wait for your star employees to submit their two-week notices before having conversations about how they could be incentivized to stay. Regular dialogue about aspirations, professional development, and mentorship opportunities signals to employees that they don’t need to leave your organization to advance their careers.

Through these conversations, carefully examine where employees are thriving and where they are missing the mark. We are most likely to be satisfied in jobs where our skills and preferences are aligned with the responsibilities and expectations of the role, and fundraisers are no exception.

Instead of focusing on areas of underperformance, look for ways that employees can do more work in the areas where they excel. Personality assessment tools such as CliftonStrengths and PDP Global can help you uncover hidden talents within your team and lead to unexpected opportunities for growth.

Going through the intentional process of aligning people with the roles most suited to them will not only increase job satisfaction; it can also lead to greater fundraising success for your organization.

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