In my previous post on this topic, I explored some of the reasons why your fundraising staff leave. As I highlighted, staff retention in fundraising can be tough, and losing staff from this role can be extremely expensive.
So what can we do to ensure our fundraising staff stay, and have an enjoyable, fulfilling experience? Well, it’s not often as simple as offering a higher salary (although that can help!). A good working environment where a fundraiser can thrive can often mean much more than a larger paycheque. So how do you ensure that you are providing the right environment for your fundraiser to thrive?
Here are a few suggestions:
Get the recruitment process right.
When it comes to recruiting an experienced fundraiser, it really is a buyer’s market. While of course job descriptions need to be clear on what the role entails, I see many job adverts for fundraisers which only talk about the expectations of the organization on a fundraiser, and include very little to persuade the fundraiser to want to apply. Even the interview process is often heavily weighted to what the organization will get out of relationship, and do not provide enough opportunity for candidates to explore whether the position works for them.
Jane Griffith, Partner & National Diversity Leader at Odgers Berndtson, suggests it is actually both a buyers’ and sellers’ market:
“In a field that is highly competitive, an interview is an opportunity for the hiring organization to meet the candidates, but also for the candidates to meet the hiring organization. Top talent is attracted to organizations with a strong mandate, mission and donor base, but also to organizations that have a culture that values diversity, inclusion and promotion of thought and innovation.”
A further commonality that we see is that people assume all fundraisers are the same i.e. someone who is experienced in direct mail will be a natural at corporate sponsorship. Or someone who has only written grants will be fantastic events planners. Of course, some people are talented at more than one fundraising area, but it is crucial to recognise that the skills required for each role can be fundamentally different.
So when going through your recruitment process, think of the kind of person you need, and recruit for that person, ensuring that you are offering a not-to- be-missed opportunity when getting the word out.
Have an appropriate fundraising strategy in place.
A further commonality in job ads, and indeed, job descriptions, for many fundraising positions is a job description that includes a long laundry list of fundraising streams, all to be activated by one person. In these organizations, one (sometimes part-time) fundraiser might be expected to manage a full fundraising program, including direct mail, grant writing, major gifts, corporate sponsorship, major events, peer-to-peer events…I could go on.
What this screams to experienced fundraisers is that there is no proper fundraising strategy in the organization, and possibly no will to create one that suits the organization’s position, capacity and needs. While diversifying your fundraising sources can be an important aspect of your fundraising strategy (reliance on too few streams can be as detrimental to your program as trying to activate too many), successful fundraising requires focus, and putting sufficient resources into each program to ensure that they have an opportunity to succeed.
So before you determine what role you want your fundraiser to play, carry out a proper assessment of your fundraising program to determine where you need to prioritise, and develop a strategy based upon your priorities. As a result, your fundraising staff are more likely to be successful, less overwhelmed, and happier in their role.
Properly integrate fundraising into your whole organization.
A director of fundraising recently told me of his frustration about the fact that he was never invited to Board meetings to talk about his work, despite other heads of department being expected to attend. The importance of having the Board engaged in fundraising aside, this was sending a clear message that fundraising was not considered one of the organization’s priorities, or even that it was truly valued. This was despite the fact that fundraised income was crucial to the organization’s survival.
Fundraising does not work well in a silo, and neither do fundraisers. Your fundraisers being truly part of your organization’s team, as well as making sure that they are included in decision-making when it affects them, is crucial for your success overall. In effect, this means that you should:
- Ensure that your most senior fundraising staff are included in strategic meetings. Strategy and fundraising are, and should be, intrinsically linked . Decisions made with regard to organizational strategy will undoubtedly have an impact on fundraising in some way, so you need the fundraisers in the room when decisions are being made.
- Make sure that new fundraising staff are properly introduced to other members of the organization in a way that people know and respect the role, and have regular opportunities to build relationships with them. A fundraiser who feels connected to their organization is less likely to look for a new role elsewhere; a fundraiser who feels valued, listened to, and respected for their skills and experience will stick around for the long haul.
- Consult with your fundraisers when determining budget. After all, they are the ones who are going to have to raise the money. This consultation isn’t just about respect. This is also about ensuring that you budget properly, not only to avoid the risk of a damaging shortfall when targets cannot be met, but also to make that you are aware of the kind of funding that is possible, particularly in a short time frame.
For example, unrestricted funding might be the holy grail in organizations, but maybe your best opportunities to raise money quickly are for restricted funding. How can you adjust your budgeting decisions appropriately? Also, how can you ensure that you are thinking both long- and short-term when it comes to budgeting, and investing now in streams that bring a higher return later?
Considering your fundraiser’s professional development needs.
Typically, fundraisers are, by nature, ambitious. They want to do well, and the focus on targets means that they are being constantly measured on their success. Ensuring that your fundraising staff are having their needs met from a professional development perspective will not only mean that they will be better at their job, they are more likely to feel fulfilled.
A focus on professional development can include the following:
- Allocating a budget to their professional development, and allowing some flexibility in how this budget can be used. For some, it will mean access to direct coaching; for others it will mean being able to access conferences, seminars or buying books.
- Providing supervision that includes an opportunity for them to share their challenges and their goals, and helping them to put in place a plan (and sometimes resources) to manage both.
- Allowing them to have the time and opportunity to meet with their peers, not only so that they can share ideas on how they can do their job better or learn about other developmental opportunities, but so that they can feel part of a community of support.
Cultivating a fulfilling working environment is essential to staff retention. From those first recruitment efforts through facilitating professional development opportunities, there are many steps organizations can take to make fundraisers feel valued, respected, and poised to thrive.