Posted February 7, 2019
Philanthropy is a booming field—in 2017, Americans gave $410 billion to charities, which was a 5% increase from the previous year, the size of the average major gift has dramatically risen (gifts are now reaching the billions, not just the millions), and the return on investment for a full major gift program is very strong. Plus, the technological tools available to fundraisers are now sophisticated and highly effective. All indications are that the size of fundraising shops will continue to expand, and the types of nonprofits which can mount excellent fundraising operations will continue to diversify. For instance, food banks, organizations sheltering the homeless, and others serving populations which were formerly thought to be unable to engage sophisticated donors have now proven their missions to be compelling to philanthropic leaders.
Yet, as the field grows rapidly, the pool of qualified fundraisers has not been able to expand at the same rate. Fundraisers—especially in programs with major donors, which fuel the highest ROIs—still achieve their expertise through experience – a slow boat to leadership, to be sure. This shortage contributes a costly issue for nonprofits: high fundraising staff turnover. The average stay of a fundraiser is fewer than eighteen months. Furthermore, the 2017 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey revealed that 81% of the surveyed organizations have not articulated a retention strategy.
After speaking with thousands of fundraisers, I’ve learned that their reasons for leaving their current positions are most often understood with 5 key factors:
If a nonprofit is at the forefront on delivering its highly-regarded mission, it will be most likely to attract and keep great fundraisers. Furthermore, the strongest and happiest fundraising teams have discovered how to successfully pitch the organization’s mission shortfalls as philanthropic opportunities. Where fundraisers are raising the bar by bringing needed resources to improve and impact mission delivery, they experience tremendous satisfaction.
A clear career path, access to training, and mentoring opportunities to work closely with organizational and philanthropic leaders – these factors are highly valued by fundraisers and supportive of retention.
Fundraisers may feel that their manager doesn’t value them or recognize their successes, their goals are unachievable, their resources are inadequate, or their manager isn’t accessible. When a fundraiser tells me that in their current job, they can do their best work and their professionalism is respected, I look for a great manager behind them. Good management matters.
If an organization lacks a healthy environment—perhaps by allowing sexist or other discrimination in the workplace—or if it provides a proper workplace but doesn’t respond to fundraisers’ workplace needs, fundraisers will be much less likely to stay. We find that institutions that proactively review policies and benefits with a strategic lens experience greater retention and recruitment success. A hot example is allowing employees to work remotely – sound policies and procedures can be put in place that make remote work effective while providing a competitive advantage.
Though only rarely the sole reason a fundraiser decides to leave an organization, competitive compensation matters. To determine competitive compensation for fundraisers, look beyond a tight peer group of institutions; just as the competition for donors is cross sector and often national, so too is the competition for fundraisers.
So how can fundraisers be best recruited and retained? Consider these strategies:
Fundraisers, as a group, are likely to be committed and passionate. By helping them to succeed and do their best work where they are, employers can significantly increase the likelihood of both developing and retaining great talent.
The marketplace for fundraisers is truly dynamic and continues to change. We would very much like to hear how your organization is approaching the challenges and new opportunities you face. Please feel welcome to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.