Six Alternatives to Year-End Bonuses for Rewarding Fundraisers and Development Staff

We’ve now brought up incentive pay a few times. With the year’s end coming around the corner many development shops are focusing on expressing gratitude and sending out year-end solicitations to their donors. It’s usually a very busy time of year for all staff members (especially our friends in the annual fund). The final push to January 1 and subsequent stress can accentuate those negative team dynamics and sources of dissatisfaction that have been built up throughout the regular year.

snowflakeFor those who do not have year end bonuses to look forward to (as well as those who do) this time period can produce doubt as to whether they are truly valued in their positions. Year-end recognition can be therefore very important to staff morale. Below are six ways (outside of financial bonuses) to show appreciation and reward performance in a development shop. This should be in conjunction or in addition to the regular year-end event/party/dinner.

(1) Flex time and vacation re-allocation.

Most staff put in a lot of time around the holidays (especially gift processors at the end of the year). You can recognize those individuals through the allowance of additional flex time around the holiday time. If your team has had a particularly challenging or fruitful year management can recognize those efforts through rollover or addition of vacation time for the next year.  One modification of this strategy that has been particularly well-received at an organization was presenting the option for staff to “buy-back” unused or capped vacation days to their retirement funds or 401k.

(2) Inviting a Donor/Board member or Constituent to share their appreciation and story.

Development offices focus on relationships and gifts, highlighting giving impact for their donors and constituents, so much so that they can lose sight of the direct impact of their own work. Inviting a recipient of services (or scholarship or program outreach) or a donor to speak to your team can be effective in two ways: it shows that leadership and the community are aware and appreciative of the development staff’s contributions and it connects the hard work of your team over the year to the real-world impact and good of the institution.

(3) Personalized thank you’s from leadership.

Staff members want to feel noticed by their peers and by leadership. The end of the year is a good time to personally thank each staff member (either in person or through a written note) for the work they have done. This gesture should be very specific, identifying 1-3 contributions or strengths of the individual and highlighting why they are appreciated and well-received. A generic thank you card with an impersonal message in this case neglects the significant contributions of the staff member and effectively communicates that their role is easily overlooked and any special effort that they did make went unnoticed.

(4) Individual development plans and budgeted professional opportunities.

If you can’t offer a salary increase perhaps you can demonstrate investment in your staff, especially in potential superstars, through your budget. Top team members who have shown great potential can be incentivized with conferences and speaking opportunities. You can also demonstrate a long-term investment in individuals by using the end of the year to step away from basic metrics and building 3-5 year IDPs for team members, in which they identify their own professional and career goals and managers, in turn, can use their leverage at the organization to help facilitate and support that growth.

(5) Small, cause-related gifts.

It’s been said time and time again: people don’t work at non-profits to get rich. Chances are your development staff is invested in your organization’s cause and mission. A gesture of recognition and inclusion in the mission can be made through an interesting and valued gift to staff. Some great examples of this include: annual ornaments with quotes from leadership or those impacted by a non-profit’s work, clocks for 5 year employees engraved with the mission statement, relabeled bottles of wine with impact statistics and highlights, etc.

(6) Peer-nominated staff and performance awards.

Across the board recognition of the team is good, but individually highlighting achievements can have an even greater impact. Many offices host “staff superlative” contests where employees peers can nominate and vote for each other in various areas of performance. A variation of this concept can allow each team to nominate one of their own for a particular award or “best of” recognition that can be celebrated publicly (at the end of the year party) and rewarded (with a gift card or gift). This type of recognition brings in other staff members in the brainstorming and can bring humor and levity to the office.



Of course these are just suggestions and the best managed offices are ones where staff regularly feel appreciated and included all year. What does your office do during the holiday season that is well-received?


One thought on “Six Alternatives to Year-End Bonuses for Rewarding Fundraisers and Development Staff

  1. Pingback: Jumping the Career Track: How traditional staffing structures damage fundraiser retention | Targeting Fundraising Talent

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