This post is part-one in a four-part series titled “Reimagining the Non-Profit Workplace”

If you’re a front-line fundraiser, your non-profit organization does not care about you.

If it did, you either wouldn’t be thinking of leaving right now, or they would have kept you instead of losing you to “greener pastures.” Unfortunately, those greener pastures are an illusion. Because on average, you are leaving for another position every 15-18 months in search of an even greener, more lush pasture.

It’s not your fault. You have been let down by a toxic culture that has invaded the majority of non-profits. Richard and I don’t believe it’s been done purposely, however. Because most non-profits have failed to recognize donors and their staff as part of their mission, those donors and staff are treated as a commodity at best and just plain expendable at worst.

What’s happening with non-profits is that “the mission” (doing the work that is trying to change the world and meet a need) becomes the sole focus of leadership. This ethos is passed down to management and the toxicity begins. On the surface, focusing on the need seems to be the noblest thing a non-profit can do, right? I mean, this is what the whole thing is about.

The problem is that as non-profits grow up, they forget that it’s the staff and donors that make the execution of the mission possible. One of the root causes for this is that non-profits tend to undervalue good management.

Now, here we are in the middle of the “Great Resignation,” also called the “fundraiser exodus.” Front-line fundraisers are leaving in droves for better work, leaving non-profit causes they love because they can no longer take the toxicity of their current workplace.

The gift of this pandemic is that the “power” has shifted from the organization to you. You’ve had the time to evaluate what you need / want / desire in the workplace (just like all of us) and you’re tired of putting up with what you had been putting up with.

In reviewing every survey out there on why front-line fundraisers are leaving, however, there is one constant. The majority of fundraisers are leaving their jobs because they do not like their manager, or they have a general dislike of how they were managed.

This is where I’m going to start with this four-part series with a discussion on “Reimagining the Non-Profit Workplace.” Front-line fundraisers are leaving bad managers. Richard and I have believed from the very beginning of our work in major gifts, that one of the main reasons mid, major, and planned giving programs never fully reach their potential is because of a lack of management of the fundraising team.

This is why Veritus started and why we’ve grown as a company… because non-profits have done a notoriously bad job of managing staff and they are now beginning to recognize it and do something about it.

At their core, Richard and I believe that non-profits don’t value good management. I mean, if the non-profit doesn’t value people because they’re focused almost exclusively on the need, management is just looked upon as an overhead cost.

For a front-line fundraiser this is what it looks like:
  • The best major gift officer of the organization is hired as the Director of Major Gifts. This is problematic, because typically the best major gift officer is motivated by getting results through their own efforts. (This is a good thing.) They are NOT motivated by getting results through others (the definition of management.) They don’t have a desire to develop people. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just not how they’re wired, but they’re put into that situation by leadership because they were the best performing major gift officer.
  • And that leads to this: Managers of front-line fundraisers are mostly evaluated on their own portfolio. What does this lead to? Lack of management of the other fundraisers. Richard and I see this every day. We don’t blame the manager here. They are only focusing on what they’re being evaluated on. Leadership doesn’t value management. So, the manager has a full caseload (remember we have to keep overhead costs low) and then they are expected to manage the team, but they can’t manage the team because they have a full portfolio and they really aren’t motivated to truly manage. Sound familiar?
  • This means the manager doesn’t really manage the team. You, the front-line fundraiser, are out on your own. You have no structure, you have only top-down goals thrust upon you, no one is developing (or celebrating) you or helping you stay focused or accountable, and you grow weary very quickly and you leave.
This cycle of poor leadership and management is constantly happening. The result is:
  1. Unhappy, unfulfilled, front-line fundraisers who leave every 15-18 months.
  2. Donors aren’t giving to their full potential (meaning, most never get out of the transactional stage of giving) as they never build rapport and trust with the organization, because it takes time to build a relationship with a donor. This will cost organizations hundreds of thousands, if not millions in revenue over time.
  3. Mid, major, and planned giving programs either stagnate or don’t grow to their full potential, leaving net revenue on the table. This results in less revenue for programs that are trying to change the world.
  4. Ironically, because the non-profit doesn’t invest in or truly appreciate the role of good management, they end up spending MORE on having to hire and train replacement staff.

Now, I know this looks pretty bleak. Not ALL non-profits are acting in this manner. Some do value management, and as I said earlier, many are just now waking up to the idea that they need good management.

This is the other gift of the pandemic: Non-profits who are losing good people are finally realizing that they need to take care of their people and provide an environment where they can thrive and find joy and fulfillment in their work.

Hang with me in this series because in an upcoming post, I’m going to write about what good management looks like, and I’ll share how non-profits can retain and attract the right talent. But first we have to go through the next post, on the toxic workplace, to learn what culture has to do with people leaving, what the warning signs are, and then give leaders and managers practical ways to change the culture around.

And remember, unless the non-profit sectors start to value managers and the role they play with developing and nurturing staff, we will always be in a vicious cycle of turnover, which never allows you to fully develop relationships with donors.


Other Posts in This Series:
  1. Front-line Fundraisers Are Leaving… And It’s Your Fault (this post)
  2. How to Deal With and Change a Toxic Non-Profit Culture
  3. How to Be A Manager People Want to Work For
  4. Hiring and Retaining the Right Fundraising Talent