Key Questions in Staffing for a Campaign

We live in the age of campaigns. Most non-profits right now are either:

a. In the middle of a major campaign.
b. Closing out a large campaign.
c. Planning for the next big campaign.
d. Extending the timeline or raising the goal of a current campaign.

Staffing goes hand-in-hand with preparing for and implementing a campaign. In development we expect to have to increase our staff sizes to increase fundraising results for a campaign. We spend a lot of time acknowledging the need to increase resources to increase results, but the process of “staffing up” can rapidly become convoluted. Below are four key questions that help steer us into the most effective campaign staffing situations.

How effective is our current team?

To create a campaign staffing plan, we have to take a hard look at who our current performers are and what our outcomes would be if we maintained the status quo. Part of this process is evaluating the fundraising team, both on existing performance and long-term potential. We have to take the time to make sure that our ratio of performers to non-performers is healthy and that team members are capable of handling the high expectations of a campaign. The tool below can help you map out the current strengths of your team.

How much time are our fundraisers currently spending on major giving?

When considering staffing for a campaign, leaders must ask this question first before choosing to simply add new fundraisers to the mix.

Through our talent management analysis and staffing assessments, BWF has consistently found that most fundraisers spend far less time on major giving than their job descriptions require. In many cases only half of fundraisers who are expected to spend 70% or more of their time on major giving are able to do so.

If your current frontline team members aren’t spending as much time as they could working on their portfolios and with their donors, then it would be wiser to invest in support and infrastructure. Consider this scenario:

If you have 100 fundraisers (average salary: $100K, average gift income: $1M) who have less than optimal time in the field: You can invest in 10 new fundraisers ($1M in salaries, $10M in post-ramp up gift income).

OR

You can strengthen targeted support areas and infrastructure to allow those fundraisers to spend even just 10% more time in the field (less than $500K in new salaries, $10M in gift income, immediate outcomes—no ramp-up delay).

Are there substantial obstacles or burdens on the team right now?

Bad policies or ineffective systems stall campaign momentum. Development leadership team members are responsible for ensuring that their frontline fundraisers are empowered to perform and execute during a campaign. When talking about staffing plans, therefore, the leadership team must identify and nullify any major barriers or obstacles that distract team members or prevent them from focusing on their top priorities. Typical barriers and obstacles are:

  • Unclear goals or philanthropic priorities.
  • Burdensome reporting or travel requirements.
  • Inaccurate data or ineffective databases.
  • Toxic organizational culture and/or personalities.
  • Inefficient competition amongst teams over prospects, resources, or political power.

Can we count on retaining existing team members?

Results in a campaign often end up being driven by a select few high performers. As development leaders, we must ask ourselves if we know who those individuals are and if we have a strategy for retaining them. This is especially important considering that, for a frontline officer, it takes 3–4 years to begin to achieve high-level results. A staffing ramp-up means that any new hires are not likely to perform on the same level as their peers until several years into the campaign. If there is high staff turnover, then it doesn’t matter how large your organizational chart is: you will never fully realize the team’s potential or build meaningful momentum within your program. Retention can cost up to 250% of the open position’s salary in today’s hiring climate. Campaign staffing plans, therefore, must be about combating attrition as well as increasing overall FTEs.

BWF’s TalentED division focuses on the challenges, best practices, and strategy for talent management in development. To hear more about what we do or find answers to your own talent challenges contact us at training@bwf.com.

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

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Two Sides of the Same Coin – Fundraising Talent Management Challenges

This blog has covered both challenges in talent management of fundraisers and of development operations team members. These audiences, while distinct in their challenges, can be thought of as two sides of the same coin.

As our the non-profit fundraising sector has evolved so has our demand for talent. We now are highly in need of two things in short supply: highly sophisticated frontline officers who can deliver big gifts and high tenure operations team members who can think and partner strategically.

Below is a table overview of the two categories.

talent management nutshell

What do you think? Have you seen other trends in the talent management of fundraisers or operations teams?

Something Worth Reading: Eleven Characteristics of Successful Fundraisers

IMG_4821On this blog we’ve touched on some international trends and what we’re seeing on the frontline, but today I stumbled upon a great find from our friends in the UK. This article, which is a recap of a presentation at the Institute of Fundraising convention, shows us some new emerging research on fundraising talent (consistent with what we’ve found before). Beth Breeze has been conducting a three-year research project at the University of Kent on fundraisers and success factors.

The full list of attributes is at the end of this blog post. However, what’s most interesting to me is the following statement by Breeze:

A lot of fundraisers said something similar; words like passionate, saying ‘it’s the best job in the world’ have come up a lot. It seems the only difference between major donors and major donor fundraisers is how much they have in their bank accounts.

We spend a lot of time looking at behavior and metrics that differentiate top performers from their peers, but sometimes we neglect this fundamental characteristic to even be an effective fundraiser in the first place: passion for the cause. The smoothest solicitation script will always pale in comparison to a less polished but 100% heartfelt appeal. Donors can sense who is being genuine with them and who is not. As salaries continue to rise dramatically and we pull in talent from the for-profit world it will do us well to remember to look first for that connection to the cause and then for strategic skills.

The 11 defining characteristics of Breeze’s study are also indicative of a love of people, community, and charity:

  • A high emotional intelligence, including being self-aware and aware of how others are feeling.
  • Formative experiences which mean they are comfortable asking – Breeze said fundraisers tended to come from backgrounds where it was completely natural to ask for help or to borrow a cup of sugar.
  • A tendency to engage with people and communities outside the day job – the study has found that 11 per cent of fundraisers sing in choirs and a fifth attend evening classes
  • A love of reading – the study found fundraisers were particularly likely to enjoy popular psychology books
  • An ability to read people and situations, and to understand body language
  • An enjoyment of giving – 87 per cent of fundraisers said they love to give gifts, and 32 per cent donate blood, compared to 5 per cent in the general population
  • A great memory for faces, names and personal details
  • An ability to be “Janus-faced” – fundraisers are charming, laid back and fun in front of donors, but ruthlessly well organised behind the scenes
  • A focus on organisational rather than personal success – fundraisers saw themselves as enablers and scene setters rather than visible leaders seeking recognition
  • A lack of egotism – Breeze said fundraisers understood that “the plaques are for donors, not askers”
  • A tendency not to describe themselves as fundraisers – Breeze said fundraisers rarely described themselves as fundraisers. She used the term “appreciation experts” to better describe what they do.

The article is worth a read and, for those of you in the UK, Beth is definitely a person to keep watching for new insight, trends, and strategies.

Side note: I will be with my colleague Josh Birkholz this week in Chicago, delivering the keynote session at the CASE Strategic Talent Management conference. If you will be there let me know! (cmegli@bwf.com or @ChelseyMegli on twitter)

A Year for Innovation in the Management of Fundraisers

Talent management is a hot topic in the field of fundraising for a good reason; the data has repeatedly shown that non-profit success often lives or dies in the hands of a few high-performing fundraisers. 2015 will require non-profit leaders to face the talent crisis head on. The following anticipated trends for 2015 will drive the need to find, keep, and grow fundraising talent.

1. An Expanding Rise in Competition for Talent. Competition for talent isn’t going to get better in the near future. Development shops are increasing in size and in campaign goals. Similarly with the count of $1M+ gifts dropping dramatically while the number of $50M+ gifts continues to rise,(1) the need for experienced, sophisticated fundraisers has increased while the group of the most experienced major gift teams is heading into retirement.

Further, as charities abroad continue to grow in number and size, and as multiple universities seek nine and ten figure campaigns, the demand for development talent on and behind the frontline will rise dramatically.

There’s no real pipeline of talent to support this growth. As a consequence, fundraisers across the board of experience are being actively and frequently (10+ times a year) recruited from other institutions(2) only to stay for a couple of years before moving onward yet again. This disruptive pattern is even more disheartening when you take into account the 3.5- to 4-year ramp-up period for the return on investment in hiring a fundraiser.(3)

 

2. Hybridization and Re-imagination of Hard-to-Fill Roles. Facing the increasing competition for talent, especially seasoned fundraisers, many institutions are likely to find themselves with extended vacancies or rapid turnover. In the immediacy of needing to fulfill the duties assigned to these staffing gaps, we are likely to see an increase in creativity with the existing team member roles and responsibilities, including:

  • Management responsibility delegation away from the frontline to allow for more focus on major and principal gifts.
  • Reorganization and centralization of key resources across institutional systems to streamline prospect management.
  • New programs put in place for “warming” donors via phone and through prospect management staff to lessen the burden of discovery and qualification on major gift officers.
3. Experiments in Growing Your Own Talent. As institutions are forced to get more creative and strategic about talent, we will see a rise in programming and structures built around growing talent internally, especially by larger institutions. This will be marked by:

  • A dramatic increase and further development of a new class of professionals at large institutions: directors of talent management and training.
  • Centralization and creation of training programming and resources across complex systems of development shops, particularly in higher education (state systems) and healthcare (community hospital systems and networks).
  • An increase in expectations for talent management and employee engagement by middle managers in development.
  • New career ladders and pathways that target talent earlier and blur the lines between the “front” and “back” of development offices.

2015 will be a year for testing new pilot programs and strategies to better manage the time of the frontline talent an organization has and create a pathway for high potential individuals to grow. In all likelihood the most notable programs of the future will not be the institutions which grow to have the largest development staff sizes, but rather those organizations that best attract, develop, and optimize the talent they do have.

 

 

Originally published  as a BWF Client Advisory on January 22, 2015

1 – The Million Dollar List. Accessed December 8, 2014.

2 – 2014 BWF Survey of Frontline Fundraisers

3 – 2014 BWF DonorCast Talent Analytics

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

Something Worth Reading: “3 Ways to Engage Employees Without Spending a Dime”

Piggy Bank 6For many advancement programs, the most meagerly funded budget lines—and usually the first spending category to be cut when budgets get tight—are professional development and employee engagement activities for members of its team. Regular readers of this blog will probably agree that such miserly investment in staff development is short-sighted and misguided, and it is likely to have negative consequences for fundraising results that will be far more costly in the long run than whatever benefits the short-term savings might yield.

While we have made multiple arguments in favor of increased and sustained investments in professional development—including the importance of practice and repetition, for enhancing performance, and as a retention strategy—for many organizations, skimpy budget allocations will remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future. So what can an enlightened fundraising leader do in the meantime to improve performance, enhance morale, and increase employee tenure without a budget to do it?

Jennifer McClure of the TalentAdvisor at CareerBuilder’s HiringSite blog just published an article that presents three valuable reminders for managers of fundraisers or any other team of employees. You can read the full article at “3 Ways to Engage Employees Without Spending a Dime,” but here are McClure’s three recommendations in a nutshell:

1.  Connect Employees’ Work to a Higher Purpose. “To capture the hearts and minds of your employees, you must hope them understand how their specific job affects your end product or service – and how their work matters.”

2.  Enable Progress by Removing Obstacles. “The most common event triggering a “best day” at work response? Any progress made by the individual or by their team. Even a small step forward counted. The most common event triggering a ‘worst day’ response? A setback.”

3.  Celebrate Successes—Big and Small. “A simple ‘thank you,’ high-five or personal note can go a long way to increasing employees’ emotional commitment. In fact, according to Towers Watson, recognition from supervisors and managers can ‘turbocharge’ employee engagement for better workplace productivity and performance.”

The experiences of our team at Bentz Whaley Flessner, as well as research among front-line fundraisers conducted on behalf of our TalentED practice, confirm the wisdom of McClure’s advice.

Each of McClure’s suggestions is solid and cost-neutral. But that does not mean they are simple and easy to implement; on the contrary, here suggestions each require commitment, focus, thoughtfulness and persistence.  But not only are these three strategies powerful and effective, they make sense for all fundraising programs—whether those programs have an ample professional development budget or not.

When is turnover healthy? Four instances where “losing” frontline talent isn’t such a bad thing

We have a healthy fear of losing talent in the world of development. For the frontline in particular, is difficult to find and fill open positions, incredibly expensive to lose someone on the frontline, and disruptive to relationship building with donors. This blog has spent some time talking about recruitment and retention strategies, tips for growing your own high performers, and data and trends behind the the world of fundraising talent management. In this flurry of trying to find, engage, and grow talent we can begin to fear losing any team members above all else.

Yes- having turnover is expensive, but there are a few instances when change doesn’t have to hurt, and in some cases attrition can be healthy for your overall team. Below are four scenarios where there are benefits that come with the “loss” of a fundraiser.

ursula 1Scenario 1: “Ursula the Underperformer”

We’ve talked before about how 20% of our frontline team bring in 80% of funds, a ratio that is fairly consistent across institutional types and structures. We’ve also discussed the 3-5 year “ramp up” period of fundraiser performance. Losing high performers is rough and the loss of potential high performers can be equally detrimental long-term. What we shouldn’t be afraid of, however, is losing or changing the circumstances of our lowest performers who have remained at the institution for years without ever achieving that “ramp up” to strong performance. This doesn’t mean that we should expect development officers in charge of smaller programs to raise as much money as their peers in big priorities and principal giving; rather, we should be looking for those Ursulas who don’t meet the expectations appropriate for the capacity of their portfolio and appeal of their programs. If you have a frontline fundraiser who has been with you for 5+ years and still is not producing meaningful gift commitments then chances are:

  • They are already disengaged from the institution
  • They lack the skill set or strategy to cultivate a meaningful pipeline within their portfolios over time
  • They are unlikely to improve on their own
  • They hold a mid-level position that could be better filled by rising talent

CarlScenario 2: “Culture Conflict Carl”

We’ve worked with hundreds of non-profit development offices – higher ed, healthcare, conservation, human interest, international aid, etc. Even across like institutions there are distinct office cultures that influence the type of management and nature of engagement of employees. In many cases you may have a “big hire” or newcomer who comes from an organization that was very different culturally. For example, your shop may be very data-driven and transparent with all activities tracked, reported and analyzed while you may have Carl, who works best in an office that uses data to bookend activity but not drive it. This is not an insurmountable hurdle to overcome, but there are likely to be some hires where the cultural fit just isn’t there. When this happens:

  • The employees described above are equally frustrated (for frontline fundraisers who had been at an organization for 2 years or less – office culture was a leading cause of dissatisfaction)
  • Team dynamics suffer and cooperation declines
  • Forcing a fit can lead to an office’s cultural values become more imposed (and thus more negatively perceived) than naturally occurring

debbieScenario 3: “Debbie Downer”

We’ve all seen this person in action. They generally aren’t happy with many things about their job whether it be management, processes, other team members or institutional leadership. What’s more is that these individuals complain and seek others’ condolences. Negative presences like this contribute to several toxic trends within an office:

  • employee disengagement (and the attrition rate) spirals downward
  • discussions become grievance oriented rather than solution driven
  • other development team members acquiesce to and avoid confrontation with these individuals even when it is not the best overall choice

The negative impact of only one or two Debbies can be felt across an entire office. The hard part of this one is that Debbie might be a high performer. She may be able to bring in gifts and it is a real risk to see her leave looking at sheer numbers alone. However, ultimately keeping her around becomes the choice of keeping one performer at the expense of the happiness and productivity of the larger team.

loganScenario 4: “Lone Wolf Liability Logan”

Human Resources tends to get quite involved when employees become actual legal liabilities, but there are employees who pose other liabilities that you should be conscious of and proactive towards. This is generally the type of individual who adopts the “lone wolf” mentality at the expense of other team members, programs, or initiatives. You can spot a Logan on your team because he:

  • expects to be exempt from new procedures or protocols (eg: keeps his own excel spreadsheet of his portfolio despite all other fundraisers using your database)
  • can drop the ball with donors and prospects who are not viewed as a “high enough” priority or will pursue gifts from prospects despite other active gift discussions being in the pipeline
  • facilitates and encourages other “lone wolves” across your faculty, program staff or institutional leaders

Logan, like his counterpart above Debbie, may produce results. Your objective when deciding whether to keep any of the four types of individuals above should be to make the conscious choice based on what the individual’s value-add is to your organization and be honest about what negative attributes he/she may take with her when he/she leave.

 

For the four above examples we are making the assumption that much of the turnover we reference below isn’t a deliberate severance or firing by the institution. We know that most fundraisers are constantly being recruited away. Healthy turnover can be encouraged by organizations through simply not actively trying to counter and outweigh the external offers that are available.

Practice and Repetition Are Not Enough: Why Training and Coaching Are Essential Elements for Developing Effective Fundraisers

Shooting Free Throws (Narrow)In previous posts our TalentED team has emphasized the importance of practice and repetition in ensuring that fundraisers develop the skills and professional judgment necessary to achieve success as a major gift officer. I’m confident it’s now accepted wisdom that repetitive simulations and actual hands-on, in-the-moment interactions with donors are essential experiences in helping new gift officers master the art of fundraising—a process that includes discovery, cultivation, solicitation, negotiation and stewardship.

As vitally important to performance as regular practice is, a recent article from Inc. Magazine reminded me that repetition alone cannot guarantee long-term fundraising success.

In “4 Short Lessons on How to Learn a New Skill,” author Sims Wythe posits that individuals who pursue mastery of a skill must also possess or receive four other factors if their repetition to yield meaningful improvement: (1) motivation, (2) knowledge, (3) application of knowledge, and (4) unequivocal feedback:

  1. Motivation

To get better at a skill, we must first want to improve. As Wythe states, “the first thing you have to do is simply begin…. And now that you know you want to begin, you have to be willing to fail, to be frustrated, to be bored, and to be angry that what looks so easy for some is so hard for you.” Without these internal or external incentives for improvement, we are unlikely to apply the necessary discipline, exert enough effort, or tolerate the impediments.

What motivates fundraisers to improve? At the very least, our supervisors expect and require us to become more polished and increasingly productive. Hopefully, we also bring to the task our own personal pride and desire for success.  Nonetheless, even the very best fundraisers encounter obstacles, including objections and rejection by donors. It’s not an easy job—and these challenges certainly contribute to the rapid turnover among first-time major gift officers.

  1. Knowledge??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

For practice and repetition to make a difference, you have to be practicing the right things. As Wythe observes, if you practice your golf swing at the driving range every day of the summer but you have a lousy swing, it’s unlikely your swing will be any better on Labor Day. Wythe thus cites Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who advises that “…acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions.”

What does that mean for major gift officers? Your own ability to enhance your performance is limited. To get better, you need to observe effective fundraising in action, have access to resources that will inform you, and obtain feedback from other, more experienced fundraisers.

  1. Application of Knowledge

Practicing alone has limited value. You must also practice in front of others and in situations similar to those in which your actual performance will occur. For example, Wythe cites the process of becoming Practicing Piano 3a better public speaker: “the only proven way to become a better speaker is to rehearse under performance-like pressure…. It is hard to replicate real-life circumstances, but practicing your speech aloud to people who are familiar with your topic is—again—the only scientifically proven way of improving your speaking skills.”

For fundraisers, that means practicing the types of conversations that you must have with donors: getting the appointment, eliciting information, exploring interests, soliciting gifts, overcoming objections and making the close. As uncomfortable as it may be, live practice—and yes, even role playing—of donor conversations in front of other, more seasoned gift officers is critical to recognizing opportunities for improvement and identifying areas for further practice.

  1. Unequivocal Feedback

Once you begin performing the skills you’ve been developing and policing, it’s vital to evaluate your performance and to identify areas that require further practice and improvement.  Indeed, Wythe suggests that we all need a coach; however we cannot be our own coaches: “You can read all the how-to books you want, but then you have to implement those suggestions—which takes a huge amount of discipline that most of us don’tPracticing Violin 1 have—and then you have to be able to see around your own blind spots which, believe me, will take a lifetime.”

Of course, few fundraisers have the resources to engage a personal coach. Instead, that role should be filled by your supervisor and your peers, and ideally, your organization will offer on-site training programs or opportunities to attend off-site workshops.  But if your supervisor and peers don’t see themselves as coaches, or if you don’t have access to training programs, it is up to you to proactively seek out feedback and coaching: Ask your colleagues to provide the ‘rapid and unequivocal feedback’ Wythe says you need, or seek others to help fill that role. Just be sure that you enlist knowledgeable people who you trust to critique you without holding back.

It should thus be good news for both new and seasoned fundraisers that the imperative for pursuing a comprehensive approach to building advancement teams is beginning to be acknowledged and to be addressed. By applying tenets of “strategic talent management” to the advancement profession, fundraising organizations are increasingly looking holistically at the entire process of finding, training, developing, rewarding and keeping the best possible gift officers. And training, coaching and mentoring are core elements of this fresh, holistic approach to growing talent. In addition, consulting and support organizations (such as Bentz Whaley Flessner and TalentED) are also ramping up their offerings to help clients develop talent management strategies, provide training and coaching, and better understand the dynamics of creating and maintaining effective fundraising teams.

It’s good news, for sure. But don’t stop practicing!