Promotions That Increase the Attrition Risk of Your Team: Scenario A – The Unprepared Manager

It sounds counter-intuitive, right? Promotions are one of the greatest tools we have to reward and retain our performers. However, without a talent-forward strategy, promoting individuals can actually result in increasing the chances that they or others will leave your organization. In fundraising, where the ramp-up of performance requires 3-5 years of tenure, this means that our patterns for promotion of fundraisers can cut off their potential and impact on fundraising results. Over the next few days we will cover six scenarios in which promoting an individual actually harms your chances of retaining them.

The Unprepared Manager 


What it looks like initially: Jane has been a fantastic performer, in this case a top fundraiser. In order to retain her you promote her to a manager role with new responsibilities, a fancy title, and a pay bump.

Where it goes wrong: Jane has never managed before and because her status as a major gift fundraiser was already high her new role has a high level of visibility and influence. By default people tend to spend more time where they are comfortable, and Jane adheres to this standard and spends all of her time on what she knows: fundraising. Her team gets neglected and Jane finds herself underperforming for the first time in her career, something she does not handle well.

How people usually leave: Pretty soon Jane’s team’s frustrations become too high and they find other opportunities. An alternative scenario would see Jane herself leaving because she no longer wants to be a manager and sees no way to trace her steps back towards being an individual contributor once again.

What we can do about it: One thing we cannot afford to do is stop promoting people to become managers out of fear that they’re not ready for it. Our best performers want to keep growing and it is our duty in talent management to facilitate that growth. To avoid this scenario organizations should:

  • Offer Career Alternatives to Management: Your best fundraisers may not be good management material. In turn, knowing the cost of the time they spend in the office, the last thing your development shop may want is to take a high-producing fundraiser off the road. We need to be better about offering fundraisers increased portfolio and strategic planning responsibility without tacking on management as a contingency for success.
  • Build and Test Management Skills Ahead of a Promotion: Much of what you use as a manager can be cultivated prior to formally being responsible for the supervision of others. With a little creativity we can build out pilot programs and structures in which a rising fundraiser can investigate what management is truly like prior to taking on a role in which supervision is critical to their professional success. The University of Washington, for example, has built a fantastic model in which more senior fundraisers are asked to take on a “technical lead” with junior DOs prior to formal supervisory roles. This helps grow the senior fundraiser, coaches newer development officers in good fundraising practice, and prevents someone from taking on a management job only to realize that they have no interest in being a manager.
  • Acknowledge and Have Strategy for the Skill Gap: Anytime someone has been promoted there will be a learning curve before they are successful. New managers and their teams are particularly susceptible during the first 6 months in the role. Help a new manager better define her style, read the needs of the leadership team, and connect with her team through formal training, coaching, and mentorship built into the promotion.

5 thoughts on “Promotions That Increase the Attrition Risk of Your Team: Scenario A – The Unprepared Manager

  1. Pingback: Promotion Leads to Attrition Part II: Counter-Offer Losses | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  2. Pingback: Promotions that Lead to Attrition Part III: The Promotion on Paper But Not in Practice | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  3. Pingback: Promotions that Lead to Attrition Part IV: The Empty Promotion | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  4. Pingback: Promotions that Lead to Attrition Part V: The Too-Late, Falsely Promised Promotion | Targeting Fundraising Talent

  5. Pingback: Promotions that Lead to Attrition Part VI: The Unsolicited Promotion | Targeting Fundraising Talent

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