I’ve been thinking a lot about why talented team members leave lately. In the development world in particular, where it is relatively easy for a talented individual to find another institution it is very important to keep and support the talent that you do have. In a few studies of why fundraising professionals leave organizations one frequently cited reason beyond the “better job offer” explanations have to do with inadequate support from management and culture. Below are four key points that help prevent and combat staff dissatisfaction with management in fundraising.
1. Positive feedback and consistency will yield more results than punitive measures
A big difference between effective managers and those who fail to lead their team is clarity and consistency in expectations. There are few things more frustrating for direct reports than to have worked diligently on a project or initiative to be told after the fact that their work wasn’t on a top priority, or wasn’t what was actually wanted. In the metrics-driven world of development this can often become not only an issue of morale but of ineffective performance evaluations. Positive feedback is more than recognition and “good job” notices; it’s aligning the structures behind recognition and evaluation with the directives that are given. For example, fundraisers are often told to go on as many visits as possible, but may be also told that multiple meetings in office are mandatory. As a manager it is your responsibility to be clear on the degree to which the mandatory meetings are prioritized over prospect visits (only acceptable for top 25, never acceptable) and reinforce that decision when metrics may reflect time spent elsewhere.
2. Your body language and attitude matter more than what you say.
We as humans are often far more perceptive of body language and subtext in communication that the actual content that is delivered orally. Similarly, we are more sensitive to mood and atmosphere than we are to simple communications, because we attach deeper meaning to those aspects of work life. If a manager goes to compliment or discuss something with a team member while frustrated/tense/angry, even if that frustration is not due to the team member’s behavior, then the conversation will be remembered as negative and can do damage to a staff member’s job satisfaction and confidence. Being aware of your mood and how your approach influences the experience of your colleagues is a skill that is difficult to develop, but critical to long-term success and confidence in your leadership.
3. Training and professional development are never complete
Often as a manager you can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things you have to deal with. When managing a large team, especially one where there are team members who need extra attention to have adequate performance, it is easy to rely on your top performers for consistency. Strong or experienced team members rarely require you to “put out fires,” but, while that makes it easier on you, it doesn’t mean that those individuals don’t have greater ambitions or even weak areas that they need to develop. Integrating training and professional development opportunities and discussions into your regular management routine helps communicate value to your fundraising team. Providing professional development and training to more seasoned individuals can also have a positive impact on the overall team, equipping those individuals with more skills and tools to be leaders and stewards of junior team members.
4. Development operations/advancement services are critical to office morale and culture
In development it is really easy to work in silos, whether they be between academic units at a university, programs in a development office, or leadership and staff. One of the most common “divisions” is between the teams who manage people (development, fundraising) and the teams who manage systems and data (advancement services, development operations). We’ve talked before about how important having strong development operations talent is. How that talent is treated, valued, and included can have a great impact on the overall effectiveness/satisfaction of your team. Open and clear communication between the two areas helps foster creativity in dealing with strategic and procedural challenges. Fostering a positive environment on the operations side increases the tendency for team members to be proactive in supporting and structuring frontline fundraising activity. On the other end, when your development team has both confidence and access to operations teams they are more likely to be better system and database users, collaborate more effectively with research, and reach out when new needs arise.