Jumping the Career Track: How traditional staffing structures damage fundraiser retention

We’ve touched on how important rewarding and recognizing performance is to the staff satisfaction and performance of your fundraising team. But immediate recognition and reward is a strategy for building confidence in the short term. But what are some long-term strategies that will keep fundraisers, especially top performers, engaged and invested in your organization?

Turnover is a constant concern for nearly every non-profit fundraising program. In many cases office culture, structures, and leadership impact overall staff and talent retention rates. But for top performers, who may be invested in the cause and office, the reasons for leaving become more nuanced and related to their own desire to grow professionally and be recognized for that growth. Take the chart below of a “typical” (and simplified) career path into major gifts:

Career pathways

There are a few problems with the ladder above.

  • First, there are a limited amount of opportunities for promotion once the gift officer level has been reached. This is the level, usually, where a team member is most desirable for retention – the organization has invested in their growth and development level and their contribution to the institution is poised to greatly increase. For smaller organizations this is an especially detrimental structure because they end up having talented frontline fundraisers that they want to keep, but have no open leadership positions to offer for promotion. What happens most frequently in this scenario is that a fundraiser who wishes to see more career growth is forced to consider external organizations to get to that next step.

 

  • Secondly, once someone gets very successful at donor relations and fundraising, the only options for growth are to take on managerial responsibilities. Effectively we are rewarding those people who do something very well with a job that leaves them less time for the area in which they excel. For the field of fundraising this effectively means that we are diverting human capital from raising gifts.  Most non-profit organizations have a higher need and larger shortage for gift income than they do for management.  Strong management is important in any organization, but, as we’ve touched on before, what makes a strong fundraiser doesn’t necessarily make a strong manager. Furthermore, if an individual has the potential to continue to grow as a fundraiser and bring new and larger gifts to the institution then the priority of managers should be to facilitate that growth, not force a management career path simply because it’s the only one available.

 

  • Thirdly, the path above limits top positions in a development office to major gift professionals, limiting the desirability of development operations positions (who can only rise so far in a traditional organization) and increasing the potential for development leadership teams to lack both strategic management soft skills and fundraising business technical fluency.

 

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One thought on “Jumping the Career Track: How traditional staffing structures damage fundraiser retention

  1. Pingback: When is turnover healthy? Four instances where “losing” frontline talent isn’t such a bad thing | Targeting Fundraising Talent

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