If you’re a fundraiser, does this sound like you?
Show me my money!!!
According to five years of research by Penelope Burk (culminating in her book, Donor-Centered Leadership) as well as a much-talked-about study by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, half of chief development officers plan to leave their jobs in two years or less and 40% plan to leave fundraising entirely.
The number one reason fundraisers give for leaving is to earn more money.
What’s going on, and how can you fix it?
Is it about money, or something else?
Money does play a role.
According to Penelope’s research, many charities are penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to compensation for their development staff. In her book she offers an example:
“A high-performing fundraiser making $90,000 at a national health charity is offered another job paying 40 percent more, and his organization decided it could not afford to match the offer.”
Ms. Burk says the health charity should have done so, because the fundraiser, who supervised 18 colleagues working on direct-marketing appeals, might have stayed if he had gotten the $36,000 increase. And, Ms. Burk notes, that would be far cheaper than the estimated $952,000 the charity would lose in donations and other aspects of lost productivity over three years if the fundraiser leaves.
Part of the reason fundraisers aren’t paid enough, of course, is a consumer perspective that looks for the lowest overhead and cost of fundraising. This ‘overhead myth’ must be retired.
Everyone would come out ahead by spending a bit more. Sure you can spend just 5% and have 95% go to direct service. But that might mean you’ll raise only $100K for your mission when, if you spent a little more to gain $500K or even $1 million, you could achieve a greater impact.
As a society we’d be well served to get over the nonsensical hair shirt mentality that fundraisers — and all nonprofit staff — should toil for love and not for money or benefits. Where is it written that nonprofit workers should be monks? Yes, fundraising is servant to philanthropy. No, that does not mean that fundraisers – or any nonprofit employees — should be servants.
Of course nonprofit employees serve. And the concept of servant leadership, coined by Robert Greenleaf 25 years ago, holds true. Servant leadership does not mean submission however. It does not mean suffering and taking on the sins of others. It means caring for others. And to care for others requires first caring for oneself. To serve the community well fundraisers must also serve themselves well.
8 Ways to Satisfy Fundraisers with Love and Money
- Embrace development directors who advocate for themselves. This means they’re good at asking. Isn’t that what you want? The difference between paying a development director $X and $Y can mean the difference between hiring a middle-level skilled “implementer” and a high-level skilled “leader” with expertise, big picture thinking, strong planning skills and a demonstrated record of success. That extra $Z you paid your fundraiser would reap exponential rewards.
- Understand what money symbolizes for people. It’s seldom just about money, of course. I’ve never met a fundraiser who was in the business chiefly for the money. Plus, money has been shown time and again to not be a primary motivator [See Herzberg two-factor motivation theory]. Yet fundraisers in the studies cited above still said this was the number one reason they left, or were contemplating leaving, their jobs. So, what’s the deal? What do you think your fundraisers believe more money will buy them (respect, power, security, or a sense of achievement)? Is there another way you can give this to them?
- Realize money is a powerful symbol of achievement and recognition – both of which are primary motivators. Those of us who’ve worked in the fundraising trenches understand that money represents impact. We don’t ask donors for “money” per se. We ask them to help us accomplish a goal. When they give it to us, we feel they’re acknowledging our organization’s achievements. They’re recognizing our good work. They’re joining with us. They understand us. Together, we’re team players. Together, we can move forward. It’s “us”; not “us and them.”
- Give fundraisers “us” compensation so they feel validated. When they are treated as part of the management team responsible for assuring your mission survives and thrives, they feel appreciated. Recognized. Trusted. This enables them to move forward as team players, rather than stewing about the unfairness of it all. It’s beyond time to retire the too-often-chanted nonprofit employee mantra: “overworked and underpaid.” Folks sometimes wear this as a badge of pride on the outside; inside they stew. Burk notes that “Research extending back 100 years is remarkably consistent in its conclusion that working beyond a standard 35-hour week is counterproductive.” This is not good for people, or business.
- Be generous with benefits. Give vacations and flex time. Burk writes that fundraisers won’t abuse unlimited time off as long as it’s tied to the caveat that they must fulfill their responsibilities to both coworkers and donors. In other words, as long as you treat them as grown-ups. Not infantilizing your staff can go a long way towards making them feel rewarded.
- Give fundraisers chances to get promoted. It’s a smart strategy, because Burk reports that the learning curve for most fundraising jobs is 10 – 12 months and, on average, folks stay for 16 months — often leaving because they see no opportunity for growth. Rather than getting only 4 months of truly productive work out of a staffer, wouldn’t it make sense to hire from within? Hiring someone unknown from outside is not only more expensive and risky, but the search for an outside candidate also means the position is likely to be vacant for a longer period. And once the job is filled, the organization will spend more time getting the new person up to speed than it would with an existing employee.
- Invest in staff development. Offer opportunities to attend courses and conferences. Burk even recommends the old world concept of “apprenticeships”in other development departments instead of a standard orientation. For example, a newly hired direct-mail fundraiser would be required to work alongside colleagues writing grant proposals or seeking major gifts. In this manner, new hires will understand how their job fits into the overall fundraising operation—and other parts of the development office they might aspire to work in one day, rather than leaving the organization.
- Recognize that, where money is concerned, satisfaction depends not on absolute salaries but on how much we’re paid relative to our peers. It may not be a positive satisfier, yet dissatisfaction ensues from its perceived absence. I would suggest that senior development professionals perceive they could earn more outside the sector. They’re intelligent and creative. They have advanced degrees. They have friends who may not be as smart or hard-working, but who earn more. Combine this reality with the fact that fundraisers often are not well-supported in their jobs by chief executives, boards, and other staff members [the subject of my next post; stay tuned!] and you have a recipe for malaise.
Stay tuned for Part II, brought to you by Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones where I’ll discuss: R.E.S.P.E.C.T and SATISFACTION (I can’t get no) – how the lack thereof may be the true number one reason fundraisers leave.
For today, tell me what you think in the comments below. How is fundraiser turnover about/not about money? What’s been your experience?
Photo: Flickr Andrew Magill
A version of this post first appeared on Clairification in April, 2013
Keep Your Donors the Same Way You Keep Your Staff: Love and Money!
Learn how in my newly revised and expanded e-guide: How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude and Keep More Donors. A full 98 pages filled to the brim with practical tips, templates and tools you’ll use and refer back to, again and again. Unlike many consultants out there, I’m not just telling you what to do. I’m sharing with you what works/doesn’t work because I experienced it first-hand! This stuff works! I promise you will raise more money if you implement the tips you find inside.
What you wrote is fine for larger organizations, but what about the smaller nonprofits who don’t have any development staff? It is difficult to contemplate hiring a development staff person if they are going to leave within a year. Offering a lot of money is out of the question, and what about the salary of the development person vs. the salaries of the other staff ? If the development person is getting more money than senior staff that have been with the organization for many years, what would that do to morale?
Thank you for this comment Mary. I did write that money is a powerful symbol of achievement and recognition for many people. Sometimes other things that people value can make a huge difference in morale. What do you give staff to foster a sense of achievement and satisfaction? In my next post I’ll talk more about how important it is to give people these things (respect, authority, autonomy, security and so forth). Hopefully there are ways you can give this to people who might otherwise feel taken advantage of? Your dilemma, of course, is whether you can raise the money you need to without hiring someone with strong development experience. At this point it becomes a cost/benefit analysis. It takes some time and commitment but, if you can raise more than you pay someone, it makes sense. As to who gets paid what, there are universities, hospitals and symphonies where exceptionally talented professors, doctors and musicians make more than the CEO. They are all doing mission-fulfilling work, but you’ve got to content with the marketplace for talent. If you need someone with skills no one else has in your organization, then you’ve got to pay them at market rate. When you don’t, you don’t get the most experienced talent. You don’t raise the money you hoped for. And everyone becomes disappointed. That’s why these development staff are the people who leave. And it’s why other staff resent them because they don’t see the benefit to themselves or the organization.
If you can’t pay the market rate, then you have to offer something else. For example, benefits, flexible scheduling and training. Often what matters most is simply strong leadership and support from the executive director. This leadership is what makes it possible for the development director to do their job. Often when you see a good development director you see a good executive director. When you see development directors that don’t work out, you find executive directors who didn’t provide leadership or create a culture where philanthropy could thrive. If you set yourself up for success, everyone wins.
One of the clearest pieces of writing on this subject I’ve seen. I esp liked the references Servant Leadership, which I found to be a significant professional development tool, Burk’s book, and Hertzberg’s Two-Factor theory. Thank you.
Thanks so much Sara! I’m glad you found the article and resources helpful.
Unfortunately it IS about money. While I love the mission I’m supporting, I’m not getting paid enough for what I’m putting into it. Partly due to the expectations of my organization, and partly due to my own personal expectations of excellence. It’s so hard to see and not do, but unfortunately the intensity of the “do” over an extended period of time can produce either burnout or the need for a bigger paycheck, or both.
Have you tried having an honest conversation with your boss about how you feel? What about asking for another pair of hands to help you so you don’t feel so burnt out? Would being able to enjoy more time to yourself be ‘compensation’ enough for you? Who else participates in fundraising at your organization? Sometimes development staff get burnt out because the expectation is they will carry the entire load. It doesn’t work well this way. Sustainable fundraising takes a village. Can you advocate for more board and volunteer participation? More participation from program staff? It’s important to create a culture where everyone sees development — connecting with donors — as part of their job.
I absolutely loved this!! going to print and share with our board so we are all on the same page and know how to look after some of our incredible team in the future.
Thanks for writing this!
You are most welcome Jenny. I hope you have a good discussion with your board.
I would love to hear some comments from executive directors about their feelings on this. What has worked for them in retaining development directors? Have they ever made the leap to pay a lot more or hire a development assistant? Or do the most just cross their fingers their development director will stick around?
I was a development director for 30 years. If I wanted to keep someone good, I’d go to my E.D. and make the case. I gave one person a higher salary while cutting her workload from 5 days to 4 days/week. It was TOTALLY worth it! She was my Associate Director and she kept the place together for years, ultimately becoming the Director when I left. It’s so much more cost-effective to retain your best staff, who already know all about your organization and have built relationships with your donors, than to hire a stranger from the outside who will take 12 months to get up to speed enough to be really useful to you.