Fundraisers report money is the number one reason they leave their jobs. While I do believe too many fundraisers are underpaid relative to their skill sets and performance, I’ve a strong hunch it’s not the real chief culprit for fundraiser dissatisfaction.
What is causing so many fundraisers to leave their jobs? Or leave the nonprofit field entirely?
Support. Culture. Infrastructure.
Or, to be specific, the lack thereof.
- Too little support.
- Toxic culture.
- No organizational infrastructure to facilitate philanthropy.
Alas, in interview after interview with fundraisers working in the trenches, I find these essential components of a productive and joyful work environment sorely lacking. This situation doesn’t usually arise out of malice. It’s born of a desperate lack of understanding about what it takes to manage people well. Of course, that’s a topic unto itself. But there’s something else that happens with people hired to work as development staff. And that’s what I want to address here.
There’s something about fundraising that gives people the heebie-jeebies.
Folks will hire people to do it But that’s sometimes as far as it goes. They don’t want to have to help those people. Or nurture them… collaborate with them… listen to them… support them… or even talk to them! Why?
There’s an irrational belief folks have that if they get too close to that evil ‘fundraising,’ they may walk away tainted. Or fleeced.
“Uh, oh. Here comes Claire. All she wants is to pick my pocket. I better run!”
NO!!! That’s not all she wants.
The savvy, effective fundraiser wants to get to know people.
- They want to know more about your personal story. What makes you tick? What’s important to you? What are your values?
- They want to help you enact your values in ways you may not have previously considered.
- They want to collaborate with you so you can accomplish things you wouldn’t have been able to achieve on your own.
- They want to invite you to join a community of like-minded folks who share your values, hopes and dreams.
There are important, necessary things good fundraisers want to do.
When they are stymied, they leave their jobs. Because they can’t effectively do their jobs.
And that is deeply dissatisfying.
What Requirements Must be in Place for Effective Development?
Fundraisers report lack of help from chief executives, boards, and other staff members is a big reason for their dissatisfaction. The fact many nonprofit leaders don’t understand what it takes to be an effective development leader creates significant frustration for people hired and specifically tasked with raising money.
Too often development directors are shoved in a corner and told: “go raise money.” Sorry, this doesn’t work.
Let’s review what does work.
Effective development requires supportive infrastructure.
Too often organizations create a single position without investing in support staff, systems and a culture of philanthropy required to sustain fundraising success. Without these pre-conditions no one individual can be effective. It’s a waste of resources and becomes a vicious cycle of starvation.
Deep down we all know you must spend money to make money. We expect it of the for-profit sector. Yet somehow when crossing the threshold of the nonprofit all our common sense seems to leave our heads. We pat ourselves on the backs for being self-sacrificing. “Overworked and underpaid” was a common refrain I heard through the years, often spoken with a deal of pride yet an underlying, gnawing sense of outrage and/or lack of self worth.
Effective development is a team sport.
Without real access to other team members — executive management, program staff and lay leaders who are setting strategic direction for the organization — fundraisers are crippled in their ability to communicate effectively with prospective donors. This makes them feel marginalized at best; stupid at worst. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve had board members ask me about issues of which they assumed I was aware (of course they assumed; I worked full time at a senior level for the organization whereas they attended a monthly meeting). I just had to nod and pretend to understand. I don’t enjoy pretending.
Effective development requires letting staff play to their strengths.
No one is good at everything. If you ask folks to multi-task ad nauseum (talk to donors, submit grant proposals, write press releases, run events, build your website, run mail merges, order supplies and take on “other tasks as assigned”) you’ll get a diluted mess. It’s not practical, and years of strength-based leadership research shows it simply doesn’t work over the long term.
If you relieve staff of tasks they hate, you’ll get enhanced productivity [See Big Changes Help Hospital Attract More Big Gifts Much Faster]. The premise is simply that playing to people’s strengths is infinitely more productive than playing to their weaknesses. It’s too common for organizations to conduct annual evaluations that pick out the ONE thing someone does not do well; the majority of the conversation is then focused on developing a plan to help them improve in that one area. The reverse makes much more sense! Why not ask folks to do more of what they’re naturally good at; less of what they’re not good at?
Effective development requires relegating the one-person development shop to the dust bin.
Unless EVERYONE participates in resource development it won’t happen, at least not to the extent you need it to. The more folks involved, the more friends you’ll have. Your donor doesn’t care which department the person they’re talking to is in. They have one experience of your organization. And the best development director in the land cannot overcome shoddy customer service. Or lack of understanding we’re all in this together.
Effective development requires a culture of philanthropy. A customer service and donor-centered approach that must be embraced by the entire organization. Otherwise, short-term transactional fundraising is conducted. Long-term transformational relationship building does not happen. People give to people. People who are there.
Effective development requires a relationship-focused approach.
You must put friendraising before fundraising. What happens when you get too busy, overwhelmed and stressed? I’ll bet you have little time for your friends. A development professional who has no time to make friends will do your organization little good.
Relationships take work; they need to be invested in before we ask too much of them. And friendship cuts both ways; a true friendship is mutually beneficial. Your fundraiser needs to ask, of course. But before they can ask they need to take time to build. No one says “I do” until they are wooed. Organizations must understand this, and encourage their fundraisers to put in this work.
Effective development requires an investment in people.
Nonprofits too often have dysfunctional work environments that turn their employees into slaves. We don’t demand self sacrifice from airline pilots or neuro-surgeons because we want them to take good care of us! Don’t we want nonprofit professionals to take good care of our communities and our planet?
This means not just salaries, but also training and continuing education. Staying up to date with the latest trends, learning new skills and finding out about available tools can mean the difference between a development program that limps along and one that races forward. Investing in staff development will increase your organization’s capacity to produce. Penny pinching will not. Nonprofits tend to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to spending money to make money.
Effective development requires an investment in systems.
WIthout a well-oiled machine the work is simply too hard. There are many pre-conditions that must be in place for a development staff person to work effectively. In addition to a supportive culture and team approach, this includes a fundraising database, analytics tools, and communications channels (including your website, email, an e-newsletter or blog and social media). It requires building mailing lists of likely supporters. And creating opportunities for folks to engage with you (e.g., committees, direct service volunteer opportunities, free programs, online campaigns, etc.).
Folks who Don’t Work in Nonprofits Think Nonprofit Work is Easy
Nonprofit employees work hard. The good ones have strong business skills (which they could easily apply to the for profit sector should they choose to do so). They also have families and expenses. They deserve fair wages. They deserve some time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. They deserve respect and kindness.
“Pay fundraisers more. Give them unlimited vacation time, make sure they rarely put in overtime, and let them work from home whenever they want to. Offer them ample opportunities for promotions and ditch requirements that force them to do things they don’t do well.”
Penelope Burk suggests having a more balanced life makes fundraisers better conversationalists and more interesting to donors. What an excellent point! All work and no play makes fundraisers dull girls and boys. And that’s not good when you’re in the business of building long-term relationships to sustain your organization over time.
Effective development is a passionate business.
It’s not about giving fundraisers the cushy life. It’s about giving them the support, respect and satisfaction that will motivate them to work passionately to further the mission, vision and values of the organization and it’s constituents.
When fundraisers are beaten down until they are too tired and frustrated to see clearly, we knock all the heart and soul out of them. This is not good for people, or business.
What Will You Do Next?
If you’d like some tools to position yourself as a social, transformational business –and to become a philanthropy enabler – check out the SPECIAL GUIDE: 7 CLAIRIFICATION KEYS TO UNLOCK YOUR NONPROFIT’S FUNDRAISING POTENTIAL. It’s super affordable, chock-full of worksheets and exercises, and comes with a money-back guarantee if you don’t find it helpful.
- Stop the Nonprofit Fundraising Treadmill: 3 Reasons I Want to Get Off
- 7 Practical Ways to Play at Work, Feel Better and Achieve More
- Why You May Be Dull at Work: What You Can Do to Change
Photo: Flickr Alex Proimos