If you work in the nonprofit sector, you’ve probably heard the statistics around the turnover rate in the professional fundraising field. According to most reputable surveys, a professional fundraiser in the United States will move from one organization to another, on average, after only 18 to 24 months. Many in the nonprofit sector feel that turnover in the entire sector is higher but in fact, it is not—the Society of Human Resource Management’s Human Capital Report and the National Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey published by Nonprofit HR both show employee turnover averages at 19 percent in the U.S.
But, that statistic is not comforting when your nonprofit organization is seeing higher than average turnover rates, especially in fundraising where revenue generation is so critically important. As a fundraising consultant, my firm works directly with fundraising staff, executive management, and nonprofit boards.
While there are several factors and variables that contribute to high professional fundraising turnover, in my opinion, these are the combination of factors I most often see and believe are the top contributors:
- Many nonprofit cultures continue to play into the “nonprofit starvation cycle,” the belief that operational overhead should remain so low that effective systematic operations cannot be sustained. Embedded in this belief is another mostly mythical belief that the nonprofit’s donor requires overly low overhead in order to be attracted to invest. Rather than develop metrics that demonstrate effectiveness and impact of its operational costs, many nonprofits elect to remain overtly underdeveloped.
- Fundraising professionals do not receive adequate training from the organization in which they are employed to do their job effectively. By this I mean they are not fully briefed on the current fundraising environment, how the organization seeks revenue and its need for revenue through philanthropic investment (fundraising). While most nonprofit organizations seek fundraising professionals, often with certifications, through the sector’s professional association, many executive directors and human resource departments do not know enough about their current position with their donors or prospects to set appropriate expectations or metrics for success. Instead, they wait for the newly hired professional to give them this information.
- Many fundraising professionals are too complacent to take ownership of the fundraising program or its results. It is far easier to run a fundraising program through activity then it is to marry the organizational need for funding to the fundraising program.
- 5. & 6 …and so on are related to truly engaging in career development, succession planning, and culture but that’s for another article.
How do we break this cycle? Much like any other learned behavior:
- Admit that the “nonprofit starvation cycle” exists.
- Develop a strategic plan that clearly defines your organization’s vision, strategy and the resources needed to succeed.
- Work with your fundraising team to better understand your current fundraising climate, what your donors are seeking and develop a case for investment that mirrors your vision, strategy, and needs. Be certain that this information is documented and updated regularly.
- Develop a fundraising plan complete with goals, benchmarks, roles, and responsibilities of all fundraising staff, executive staff and the board of directors.
- Train each staff member on his or her respective role in implementing the strategic and fundraising plans. Everyone involved in the organization should be able to answer this question: “How do I contribute to the overall success of our mission?”
- Give your plans time to work.
- Hold your team accountable for implementing the plan through regular reporting, demonstrate a true commitment to working together to break up roadblocks and barriers as they occur, and openly celebrate success, at every level.
- Let your fundraising team know that you value them and want them to stay by showing appreciation and investing in their professional and personal development.