Note: This is Part Three of a three-part series about the fundraising profession. Be sure to visit Part One: An Intentional Introduction to Fundraising and Part Two: Designing Your Development Path
The Profession of Advancement and the Advancement of the Profession
Last month, the Chronicle of Philanthropy released study results revealing that half of all fundraisers expect to leave their jobs in the next two years, with only 12% citing retirement or family changes as the reason. Even worse, three in 10 said they had recently left or plan to leave the development field altogether within the next two years.
If you are an Executive Director or Vice President of Development, this may be cause for concern. But it doesn’t have to be that way. An engaged, committed, and productive development staff should be considered a benchmark among fundraising best practices.
What are we as leaders doing wrong? Let’s start with the most significant problems:
- Hiring people into the wrong fundraising “tracks”
- Avoiding the creation of clear leadership growth plans
- Not working with your leadership to create achievable and realistic goals
1. Hiring people into the wrong fundraising “tracks”
Your first step as a leader is to ensure staff members’ strengths are aligned with their jobs, which is proven to reduce turnover and boost employee engagement.
Self-awareness is not always innate. Some people take jobs in frontline fundraising but realize they don’t feel comfortable asking for money. Others get into grant writing but hate the deadlines and stress over the writing process. When self-awareness isn’t guaranteed, what can you do to avoid pitfalls around performance preferences or work behaviors?
Graham-Pelton created QuotientsTM, which uses an assessment that evaluates a candidate’s workplace behaviors and how roles within an organization align with their unique characteristics. The assessment sheds insights on how a person is likely to behave in a solicitation setting as well as in stressful situations.
The evaluation provides an opportunity for candidates to become more aware of how they function in the workplace. It can lead them to insights on possible obstacles and challenges they are likely to have in any given work scenario. We discovered that the evaluation tool helps us to build stronger, more dynamic teams. We now have a strengths-based model that better leverages everyone’s unique motivation drivers.
We find that when employees are out of alignment with their behavioral preferences, they are less likely to succeed. How many times have you found yourself charmed by a candidate, only to find out that this person is fantastic with people, but rarely can close a gift? Our data has allowed us to benchmark people in the industry against the requirements of the profession where individual strengths can be leveraged for the greater good of a team.
When people’s behavioral preferences align with their job responsibilities, everyone wins: employees have increased job satisfaction and employers benefit from increased productivity. It’s also an expensive proposition when you hire the wrong person for the job.
Using assessment tools for hiring can provide a real leg up when predicting the right career fit for your candidates and help people new to the field. They also will immediately flag potential issues. Most importantly, it helps remove personal bias from hiring by proving an independent evaluation of your candidates.
2. Avoiding the creation of clear leadership growth plans
Too often, fundraising department staff members don’t have easily identifiable growth opportunities. In many instances, the only way to get a raise or promotion is to leave that organization for another, taking with you important institutional knowledge and relationships.
Studies show that fundraisers’ yields increase dramatically after a tenure of four years, demonstrating what is anecdotally known: that it takes time and deepening trust to secure significant gifts. Yet, very few nonprofits have a formal retention strategy.
At a minimum, consider building the following into your strategy:
- Don’t just offer a job description: outline a clear vision of growth during the interview process, including where hires “can go” from their first position within your nonprofit.
- Create a visual chart for each track that shows well-defined and -articulated growth opportunities.
- Encourage leadership development by demonstrating that you value shadowing, memberships, board leadership, and other professional growth opportunities.
- Don’t assume that everyone should be a manager. In fact, some of the best frontline fundraisers can also be the worst managers because the skill set of a strong manager differs from what is required of a frontline fundraiser. Ensure your organization has a structure in place to support smart promotions, and don’t adhere to a societal standard of growth that doesn’t make sense for your organization or team.
3. Not working with your leadership to create achievable and realistic goals
When people are forced to meet unrealistic goals, it leads to turnover.
We hear this complaint all the time: “Our CEO has increased our goals by 200%, and it’s unrealistic. We have no pipeline to support this. What are they thinking?” I’m sure you’ve heard something like this before – or uttered the equivalent.
Too often, executive leadership fails to engage fundraisers in their strategic planning efforts. Fundraisers should be at the table with their CEO and COO to discuss viable program ideas (that is, what is fundable through the long-term) and help set annual revenue goals with executives and volunteer leaders.
Frontline fundraisers like to win, and creating an environment where winning is impossible is a surefire way to lose your star performers. Accepting goals that are wildly unrealistic does not only harm your staff; it harms your organization. When you can’t reach a fiscal goal, you are setting yourself and your organization up for failure, alienating supporters, eroding your reputation, and demotivating your staff.
There’s a better way. Clear communications from the top-down, coupled with sustainable, realistic goals for both individuals and an organization, can change the trajectory of what and how you do your work. Take the time to slow down and invest in a transparent and simple growth process: the right people, jobs, growth, and goals.
The results will be worth it.
Jennifer Harris, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President at Graham-Pelton and Lindsay Morlock is Graham-Pelton’s Chief Operating Officer.
Other parts of the series: