Much of the posting on this blog has been focused on the frontline of the development world. Pressure is highest there, the return on investment is most visible, and the personalities tend to be the most forward amongst fundraisers. But the other side of advancement is a rising hot spot for talent. We’ve talked before about the value of high performing operations team members. Today we will discuss four ideas for how we engage these employees in meaningful ways so that we can retain and grow those members who make the biggest difference behind the scenes.
First – Blur the Lines Between Subspecialties
With the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Ford’s assembly line the world bought into the increased efficiency in segmenting labor. For making a car this makes sense, however, when you look at the psychology of highly skilled workers this segmentation actually reduces motivation and negatively impacts performance (for more information on this read The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely). As our shops grow we increasingly have distinct teams for gift processing, research, prospect management, database management, etc. The more separated these teams are from the complex and integrated nature of the work, however, the lower their engagement level and the less innovative their activities will be. Advancement programs will do well to find the opportunities and set expectations for individuals to extend outside their specific functionality. This can only create positive outcomes as the best operations programs feature partnerships with each other and with the frontline.
Second – Define the Meaning in and Outcomes of Operations Activities
We work harder when our actions have meaning and when our performance is tied to outcomes. In development operations teams are often isolated from the impact of their work. Prospect researchers never hear what was most useful in their profiles or what the donor outcomes were. Database managers are left in the dark about how their steadfastness to accuracy impacts donor stewardship and frontline efficiency. Reporting specialists are excluded from seeing exactly how their products are utilized in moves management and volunteer engagement. If we want our talent to grow and remain engaged and passionate about the field we need to tie them into the outcomes of their day-to-day activities. This means not only communicating impact, but also finding and expecting both partnership and feedback from those teams, fundraisers, and leaders who most directly benefit from having a robust operations team.
Third – Recognize and Reward Excellence and Innovation
The not so simple act of focusing fundraisers on the right prospects can have a dramatic impact on our gift income results year to year. Nationally we have reached a stage where there is a wealth of new tools, ideas, and strategies for changing how we fundraise and maximize our ROI. In order to keep the best talent found in the “back office” we have to recognize when team members outperform their expectations and reward innovation that improves our processes. Without this value of individual creativity across teams development shops will become static and locked into procedure rather than strategy. The next generation of best practices will arise from those shops who facilitate high level thinking and leadership in operations.
Fourth – Find the Right Career Paths Both Onto and Outside of the Frontline
The most common thing I hear from early career individuals in development is the frustration of getting fundraising experience. Those who want to grow in the field seldom are given the opportunity by their institutions to meet with donors, manage a portfolio, or even participate in prospect strategy as non-fundraisers. For those who want a career that includes fundraising this means that they have to move out to grow up, contributing to turnover of rising talent and inconsistency in our staffing. The next stage of talent management success in development will be found by those institutions who can more readily and proactively create the bridge to the frontline and grow their talent in house from all angles.
On the other side of this equation is this paradigm we need to fight that leadership is only achievable for those who have portfolio experience. We’re now in the generation of development leadership where we will see two new types of Vice Presidents: (a) individuals who have spent their entire careers in development and (b) individuals who rose to leadership levels without being fundraisers. Managing a portfolio simply isn’t a career goal for many individuals in operations – and they still have the potential and desire to lead development programs. The value of a leader who understands how to facilitate processes, empower fundraisers, and manage teams will only continue to grow. We need to reflect that value in career growth and seniority alongside frontline positions.