Triumph despite turnover: Ensuring fundraising program success during leadership transitions

By March 6, 2018 April 4th, 2018 Return on Investment

Recent studies confirm what we all know – transitions in fundraising staff and leadership are inevitable. Data demonstrates that the average tenure for development professionals is less than three years, and more than half of Chief Development Officers served less than two years in their previous positions. So how do we ensure the sustainability of our fundraising programs with such turnover? And how do we avoid hiccups when any one key individual leaves? Below are our top tips for building a sustainable fundraising culture so we’re not disrupted by change, and for managing turnover when it does happen.

Building a sustainable program

– Despite fundraising being a relationship-based business, it is always important to emphasize the relationship with the organization, which is facilitated by a development officer, and not focus on the relationship with that individual. By design, nonprofits are about the mission of the organization, not any one individual.

– Build a culture of philanthropy where prospects, donors, volunteers, and friends of your organization have interactions with multiple individuals to ensure they don’t feel siloed with only one staff member. Avoid a culture in which development officers become possessive of their prospects.

– Focus on relationship building, not prospect management. As fundraisers, our interactions with prospects should be about empowering them and crafting a better future for our organization rather than managing what the prospect should and shouldn’t do.

Avoiding hiccups when change happens

– Our experience shows us that the most important thing we can do is have the right (optimistic) mindset. Understanding that change shouldn’t be crippling and can in fact present several great opportunities is the first key to success.

– Celebrate the outgoing staff and be proactive in communicating with key prospects and those with whom the outgoing staff member is closest. If existing relationships are strongest with the outgoing staff, rather than with the organization as a whole, this is a crucial time to introduce someone new for the prospect to be in touch with and solidify their connection to your organization.

– Encourage new development leaders to take stock internally. By taking time to assess the culture and current practices of the office, they can capitalize on keeping the best that exists and work to co-create new approaches with the team in areas they want to change.

– Leverage the opportunity for an introduction tour. A new development leader (or fundraiser) opens the door for an introductory visit and presents the opportunity to directly invite the prospect’s input on why they support the organization, how they feel about their giving, what they expect going forward to feel good about their giving, and what their key interests are. All of these factors allow us to unlock their giving motivations.

These factors apply to all sizes and types of organizations, whether you have one fundraiser or 100, are in or out of campaign (or planning for one), and will all contribute to continued and sustainable fundraising success despite the inevitable turnover in our industry.

In our next post, we’ll share recommendations on how to keep momentum in (or preparing for) a campaign in light of leadership transitions.

Michael DeCristofaro is a Senior Consultant at Graham-Pelton Consulting. Contact Michael directly via email or by calling 1.800.608.7955.

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