What’s love got to do with it?
Show me the money.
Some year’s ago the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article about the need to Shake Up Development Offices and Curb Turnover. The article cites Penelope Burk’s five years of research which culminated in her groundbreaking book, Donor-Centered Leadership, as well as a revelatory study, Underdeveloped, by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund that found half of chief development officers planned to leave their jobs in two years or less. And 40% planned to leave fundraising entirely.
What’s going on, and how can you fix it?
Is it about money, or something else?
Money does play a role. According to Burk’s research, the top reason fundraisers leave their jobs is to earn more. Part of the reason they aren’t paid enough, of course, is a consumer perspective that looks for the lowest overhead and cost of fundraising. Sure, you can spend just 5% and have 95% go to direct service. But that might mean you’ll raise only $100K to use to help folks. What if you spent a little more to gain $500K or even $1 million so you could achieve substantially greater impact? Everyone would come out ahead.
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? Who decided on the overhead myth that yours should be as low as possible? Overhead is mostly a synonym for people! Your people should be paid. Yes, fundraising is servant to philanthropy. No, that does not mean that fundraisers – or any nonprofit employees — should be literal servants.
Of course nonprofit employees serve. And the concept of servant leadership, coined by Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership 30+ years ago, holds true. A culture of servant leadership, however, is the opposite of a culture of submission. Servant leaders empower others through a culture of trust and a philosophy that turns leaders into servants and coaches. It is the antithesis of asking nonprofit workers to suffer and take 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.
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.
It’s not 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 said this was the number one reason they left, or were contemplating leaving, their jobs. So, what’s the deal?
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. Systemic inequities abound, and until quite recently most nonprofits have been unwilling to address disparities of gender, race, age, and other factors. In addition, I would suggest many 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 fundraisers often are not well-supported in their jobs by chief executives, boards, and other staff members and you have a recipe for deep malaise.
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 agreeing they value the outcomes we seek. 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.”
When fundraisers receive “us” compensation they feel validated. 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. This is not good for people, or business.
Photo: Flickr Andrew Magill