I can’t get no… Oh, I can’t get no… satisfaction…
Fundraisers report money is the number one reason they leave their jobs [See Part I of this two-part series here]. Hmmn… hmmn… hmmn…
Is it really all about the money?
While I do believe too many fundraisers are underpaid relative to their skill sets and performance, I’ve a hunch it’s not the real chief culprit for fundraiser dissatisfaction. What is?
The real reason fundraisers leave their jobs, and the sector, is very similar to why donors leave you. Today’s article will help you learn both:
- how to keep more fundraisers, and
- how to satisfy, inspire and retain more donors.
I gave you a hint in the title. Yup. It’s what Aretha Franklin famously sang about:
It’s not just respect for fundraisers as individuals that’s lacking. It’s respect for their profession. For what it takes to succeed with development in a nonprofit organization. For what it means to be a part of a team — all working together towards the same goal — and why it’s impossible to succeed without a supportive infrastructure and culture.
And, by the way, donors won’t thrive absent a supportive culture and infrastructure either. They’re looking to be a part of your community, your family, your way of life. If you won’t give them this warm, fuzzy, connected feeling — they’ll find someone else who will.
So what pre-conditions must be in place for fundraising staff, and donors, to want to stay?
The first rule of social pschology is in order for change to occur, the parties involved must want to change.
I find development staff are often stymied by working in organizations stuck in the status quo. These organizations may pay lip service to the need to raise more funds, but they’re really just too comfortable with what they’ve always done. So they hire a development officer, they’re unclear with them about their role, and they direct them to go make change ‘around the perimeter.’ Of course, they don’t say it this way. But, look at what they do:
They don’t invite development staff to board meetings.
They don’t give them support staff.
They don’t welcome them into the bosom of the organization, including strategic planning meetings.
Too often, there’s no one else in the organization who has a clue what development has to offer.
The development officer, if they’re any good at all, soon begins to discover certain pre-conditions for fundraising are not in place. Collectively, these serious gaps make it next-to-impossible for the designated philanthropy officer to effectively lead, connect and build the types of sustainable relationships essential to their work. Maybe:
The E.D. hates fundraising.
The board were recruited with the proviso they would do “anything but fundraising.”
The marketing team thinks the constituencies they promote to are much more important target audiences than would-be donors.
The program staff think fundraisers are nothing more than distasteful money grubbers.
These poor development staffers are forced into the role of trying to be the change agent that moves the organization to the next level. But trying to change the culture of an organization that doesn’t want to change is just dang frustrating. So before you blame your fundraiser for leaving, ask yourself whether you really want to get better. If you’re content with the status quo, admit it. Stop making your fundraiser take on a Sisyphean task. There’s nothing satisfying about trying to push a heavy boulder uphill all by yourself. And that’s what I’m often hearing fundraisers tell me.
Because the other song I hear fundraisers singing all the time comes from the Rolling Stones. Can you guess which one?
(I Can’t Get No) SATISFACTION
I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no
The biggest reason for fundraiser dissastisfaction?
Fundraisers report lack of professional growth, autonomy, and help from chief executives, boards, and other staff members are big reasons for their discontent. Likewise, harassment and discrimination are factors. As is disagreement about how fundraising should be practiced. The truth is many nonprofit leaders don’t understand what it takes to be an effective development leader, creating significant frustration for the fundraiser.
Too often development directors are shoved in a corner and told: “go raise money.” Sorry, this doesn’t work.
If you want to keep your fundraisers (and your donors, for that matter), it’s essential to commit to offering (1) leadership support; (2) a culture of philanthropy, and (2) an infrastructure that supports development. Good fundraising takes a village.
8 Things Effective, Respectful Development Operations Recognize:
1. Development is a team sport.
Without real access to other team members — staff and 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 only attended a monthly meeting). I just had to nod and pretend to understand. I don’t enjoy pretending.
2. 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 [See Stop the Nonprofit Fundraising Treadmill: 3 Reasons I Want to Get Off].
3. 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 that we’re all in this together.
4. Development requires a culture of philanthropy.
This means a customer service and donor-centered approach embraced by the entire organization. Otherwise, short-term transactional fundraising is conducted. Long-term transformational relationship building does not happen. Why? People give to people. Effective philanthropy facilitation is a personal business. If no one has time, authority or responsibility to do the connecting, not much will happen. In fact, if everyone seen as a representative of your mission does not do some connecting, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. Repeatedly. Especially over the long term.
5. Development requires a relationship-focused approach that puts 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. Most donors, especially those with a likelihood to make major or planned gifts, are looking for a relationship with you. One that brings important meaning to their lives.
6. Development requires an investment in people.
Investing will increase your 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. Plus, they too often have dysfunctional work environments that turn their employees into slaves. And you know what slaves naturally do, right? They spend a disproportionate amount of their energy considering how they might free themselves of their burden. Is this where you want your staff putting their energy?
7. Development requires operating more effectively so as not to leave money on the table.
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 optimally.
8. 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 show it simply doesn’t work over the long term. If you want enhanced productivity, and happier campers, relieve staff of tasks they hate.[See Big Changes Help Hospital Attract More Big Gifts Much Faster]. This is a similar approach to the one taken by Gallup Strengths Finder, which has been used in businesses worldwide for some time. The premise is that playing to people’s strengths is infinitely more productive than playing to their weaknesses. It’s too common for organizations to have annual evaluations that pick out the ONE thing someone does not do well; then spend the majority of the conversation developing a plan to help them improve. The reverse makes much more sense. Have folks do more of what they’re naturally good at; less of what they’re not good at.
“Organizations need to make fundamental changes in the way they lead and resource fund development in order to build the capacity, the systems and the culture to support fundraising success. Among the signs that an organization is up to the task: It invests in its fundraising capacity and in the technologies and other fund development systems it needs; The staff, the executive director, and the board are deeply engaged in fundraising as ambassadors and in many cases as solicitors; Fund development and philanthropy are understood and valued across the organization. Fundraising can’t be a priority for just one individual. It has to be a priority, and a shared responsibility, for the board, the executive director and the staff alike.”
— UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, Compass Point and Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund
Folks who don’t work in nonprofits think nonprofit work is easy. It’s not. 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 and deserve some time to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Philanthropy is a passionate business. By beating down our fundraisers 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.
Would You Like to Apply Similar Principles to Keep Your Donors?
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Photo: Flickr Alex Proimos