I feel like every six months or so, either Richard or I feel compelled to write about the state of turnover in our industry. It’s sad, because honestly, not much has changed in over a decade of writing this blog. But, if we can help one CEO, ED, or Development Director think about how they can foster an environment that values their people a little more, we’ll keep writing about it.

I’m speaking directly to those non-profit leaders who are managing front-line fundraisers. Whether consciously or not, I think you’re taking advantage of people who are doing this work, because they have a heart for your mission.

In survey after survey of fundraisers, over 85% of them have a “higher motive” than just getting a paycheck or advancing their professional careers. That’s an amazing percentage of people who see their work in fundraising as a personal mission of their own.

People who are driven by work that fulfills their personal mission are going to find immense joy in it and are much more likely to work harder, longer, and accept lower compensation to do that work.

But, when you couple that with an industry where leadership believes overhead anywhere north of 10% is wasting their donors’ money, you have a problem.

It’s kind of strange when you think about it, isn’t it?

Here you have two, supposedly good organizational attributes: mission-minded employees (which is what any CEO or ED loves) and an intention to be careful with how you steward a donor’s gifts. Both, good things. However, taken together, this creates an environment that is hurting our front-line fundraisers. And according to every article I have read in the last few months, this conflict is causing many of your colleagues to leave their positions in fundraising and at non-profits altogether.

Non-profit leaders, this has got to stop!

People are your most important asset. They make carrying out your mission possible. How ironic that the sector in our society that is supposed to be doing good in the world is so often exploiting their own people who are trying to accomplish that good.

And this is especially important right now as we enter what some are calling a “fundraiser exodus.” Just recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy shared survey results that showed that 51% of fundraisers expect to leave their current job in the next two years. On top of that, 3 out of 10 surveyed fundraisers expect to leave fundraising all together in the next two years. This could be catastrophic for the industry.

So, what can you do right now to change this?

  1. Treat your people fairly — Pay them well, give them ample time off, train them properly, help them advance their professional careers, and provide flexibility. The combination of your people’s love of the mission with your ability to provide them with a life-giving workplace is powerful and will create joy.
  2. Provide your front-line fundraisers with clear expectations and a structure from which to do their work — Too many fundraisers are left trying to figure out what their job is exactly. The best thing you can do as a leader is make sure there are clear expectations and then provide them with the proper structure that is set up for them to create authentic relationships with their donors. Set up your fundraisers to succeed.
  3. Celebrate your people — Richard and I have spoken with scores of fundraisers who tell us no one tells them they are doing a good job. We all want a pat on the back and recognition for a job well done. We all want encouragement and for our leaders and managers to acknowledge good work. It’s amazing to us that something so small like telling your fundraisers how good they are at their work can have such a huge impact on performance and well-being.

You can help turn this around. You can treat your people well, and you can care for their well-being so that your folks will want to stay with your organization long enough to develop real relationships with your donors. This is how you curb high turnover. This is how to celebrate the people who are dedicated to your mission.

You can do this!