It’s no secret that fundraisers are leaving the organizations they work for at an alarming rate. 51% of them say they plan to leave their current non-profit in the next two years. And 30% say they plan to leave fundraising altogether.

Why is this happening? Two things at the macro: (1) These good people are being put under unreasonable pressure and unrealistic goals, and (2) Leaders and managers are maintaining an environment and culture that is hostile or, at the minimum, apathetic about fundraising.

There is nothing worse for a front-line fundraiser than to be in this kind of place, which is why you need to take steps now to avoid the employee exodus that could be brewing at your organization.

Here are the steps you should take:

  1. On goal setting – Every goal for every donor (mid-level, major and planned gifts) should be driven by the history of giving of that donor, the donor’s potential, and the nature of the relationship to the fundraiser. These three things must be the focus of an engaged conversation between the manager and the front-line fundraiser. The discussion must include reviewing the goal set for that donor and, then, an agreement on the number.

    Do not fall into the trap of just announcing that the fundraiser needs to raise 15% (or some other number you dreamed up) more than last year. Jeff and I know that is convenient and easy, but it’s not realistic or honoring. Plus, there is no logical basis for that request. What if, by coincidence, when the fundraiser adds up the goals for each donor, they average increase if 9%? What are you going to do? Force the fundraiser to squeeze the extra needed from some hapless donor? It never works and it won’t work. Goals need be donor sourced.Now, it’s true that there may be some energetic discussions between management and the front-line fundraiser about what is possible for selected donors. Just go with that high energy discussion and then reach a compromise. Do not kick into authority mode and dictate anything. Gain agreement and consensus.

    And, once the goal is agreed upon, then the fundraiser needs to develop a personalized plan for the donor that documents the steps they’ll take to secure that goal. This plan will have a number of touch points (stewardship and solicitation) in it.

  2. On performance evaluation – This is the hard part and very labor intensive. You must meet weekly with every front-line fundraiser to review progress against the plan they wrote for the donor. You want to be sure you’re holding the fundraiser accountable to execute the plan. This is critical to their success. One of the major reasons a fundraiser does not achieve the goals that have been set is because management accountability is not in place.

    This kind of checking in and walking with the fundraiser gives you the opportunity to KNOW what is going on in time to correct it, provide encouragement, and give advice and input. All of this, done correctly, is a positive experience for your staff.

  3. On fixing the culture and environment for your employees – All Jeff and I can say about this point is that many non-profit cultures are broken. And this brokenness is bruising employees to the point that they are literally running away. We have written extensively about this. Our best resource is a white paper we just recently updated on building a culture of philanthropy.

    Do not, for one second, think that this is something that you can take care of next week, next month or next year. This is urgent. If your culture is characterized by even passive negative attitudes about fundraising and donors, or your systems are more oriented to organizational values vs. donor values, then the poison is in the organizational veins and must be taken care of as soon as possible.

Jeff and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to review your organization’s culture, especially in these two areas: (1) Attitudes about and treatment of employees in fundraising and (2) How non-fundraising personnel view the function of fundraising in the organization and how their views affect the management of systems that support donors and fundraising.

While the focus of this blog has been on retaining fundraising personnel, the same principles apply to the non-fundraising personnel in your organization. It boils down to respecting and honoring your employee and treating them as you would want to be treated. You really do know what that means. Now it’s about putting all of that into daily practice. Do it and you’ll be on your way to retaining more of your employees as they discover that where they currently work is a happy and fulfilling place. (Tweet it! Tweet it!)