Fundraising is a tough job. Finding people with the skills and experience to raise money can certainly be a challenge, and one I’ve seen a number of organizations face.
Keeping good fundraising staff can also be a challenge. One study says that the average amount of time a fundraiser stays at his or her job is only 16 months, and it can cost in excess of $127,000 to find and train a replacement. The loss of fundraised income while the position remains vacant, and while the new staff member gets up to speed also contributes towards this figure.
With this landscape, few organizations can afford to have much staff turnover in this role – and yet many organizations still experience a revolving door with their fundraising position. One organization I know hired four different fundraisers in 5-year span. What effect did this staff turnover have?
- They were spending almost as much time onboarding their new staff as they were fundraising.
- Donor stewardship suffered due to lack of attention and continuity, so they lost donors.
- Appeals were being sent late, so the organization lost the best opportunity to raise maximum funds, or they were not being sent at all.
- Deadlines for grant applications, reporting and following up with donors were being missed.
So, not only can turnover within your fundraising department cost you a great deal of money, it can also decimate the efficiency of your program and seriously impact your donor relationships.
So why do fundraisers leave?
There are many reasons, but career progression can be a challenge in this industry.
If fundraisers don’t see opportunities to move up in their own organization, with such a skills shortage within the fundraising industry, its not always too difficult to find what they are looking for elsewhere. Even fundraisers with only a few years of experience are increasingly being head-hunted for more senior roles. Even if your staff member is not actively looking, there is a risk that they could be drawn away with offers of better benefits and salary, an opportunity to move up the ladder as well as experience a higher chance of fundraising success in an organization that has a stronger fundraising environment overall.
There are also many ways through which you can hasten the exit of your fundraisers. Here are just a few.
Not valuing your fundraiser’s expertise
This is very common in fundraising. I have met many fundraisers who have expressed to me their frustration with their managers because they do not feel listened to and respected for their skills and experience.
Whether the focus is on writing direct mail, developing a fundraising strategy or planning the organization’s next fundraising event, it is not uncommon for fundraisers to be pressured to carry out (or increase income from) activities that traditionally have little return on investment because “we’ve always done it that way”, or even prevented from using techniques that have been proven to work because their managers are unfamiliar with, do not like, or do not understand them, or are not prepared to make the investment in time and expenditure to get them off the ground.
Not involving them in decision-making
It is also common for fundraisers to be excluded from decision-making that affects them. Decisions around the organization’s budget, how much the fundraiser needs to raise and sometimes even where these funds be raised from, are not even discussed with the fundraiser before budget has been set, even though the fundraiser almost certainly has insights on the matter.
I have a friend, a very experienced and successful fundraiser, who had come into a new role at an organization. After a couple of months, as the organization looked to set a new budget for the next fiscal year, the CEO and Board decided to triple the fundraiser’s revenue expectations compared with the previous year. What’s more, all the new funding had to come only from unrestricted income sources!
This arbitrary decision was made without any discussion with the fundraiser (the decision was based on funding need rather than whether it was actually possible to raise the funds within the time), and without him being able to employ any additional resources, such as staff or additional expenditure budget. Needless to say, the fundraiser started looking for his next job right away.
A poor culture of philanthropy
All of the above can fit under the banner of having a poor culture of philanthropy, but there are other strong indicators.
When fundraisers are heavily siloed and not considered to be part of the team, it indicates a poor culture of philanthropy. This fits with what I say above about not being included in decision-making, but it also results in fundraisers not getting the support they need from others to be able to do their job effectively.
Fundraising is a team sport. In the most successful fundraising shops, the Board, the Executive Director or CEO, as well as the program staff, are all engaged in fundraising in some way. From helping to identify and provide beneficiary stories that can be used in fundraising materials, to reaching out to their networks, every role and action helps to create a culture where fundraising is supported and celebrated.
Not providing strong professional development opportunities
Like with any profession, it is crucial that fundraisers keep up to date with the latest trends and knowledge around fundraising.
Particularly if your budget means that you are hiring less experienced fundraisers into the role, ensuring that they have access to professional training and mentorship can ensure that your staff is able to focus upon putting in place the right fundraising strategy, and implementing the most appropriate activities to suit your organization. Otherwise, fundraisers could end up spinning their wheels.
While such training can sometimes seem like a considerable investment, you will reap the rewards as your fundraising program becomes more successful.
If your organization finds it a challenge to keep hold of fundraising staff, step back and see if any of these mistakes ring true. Once you identify the pain point, you can make changes to your organization to be better retain staff and save your organization the headache – and money – of finding and training new fundraisers.
Next time, we will share some of our top tips on how to keep your staff on board, engaged and successful at their job!