Something Worth Reading: “Senior Executives are Often Unaware of Development Opportunities”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently highlighted a very interesting report on the executive leadership of non-profits. The report’s findings? That the most senior executives aren’t always on the same page as their leadership team.

Related to development and training, the following quote from the article is particularly troublesome:

Nearly all senior-most nonprofit executives believe their organizations are providing formal professional development opportunities, according to a new study, even as half of those serving immediately below them report that no such opportunities are in place…

Ninety percent of the senior-most executives said their organization offered formal development opportunities, while just 52 percent of leadership team members said such opportunities existed.

This speaks to the disconnect we’ve discussed before on this blog, but rather than managers and their direct reports in fundraising the data demonstrates that the top executives at non-profits have a parallel disconnect to their development leaders. When this relates to professional development opportunities the entire organization suffers. In fundraising a lack of executive understanding of the training needs and actual programs for development paired with ignorance of existing opportunities by leadership means that the institution is likely to (a) fall behind in appealing to and retaining top frontline talent, (b) perpetuate or exacerbate frustrations between performers and their managers, and/or (c) miss opportunities to improve both performance and engagement.

In many non-profits executives have ideas but do not engage or bring in others for implementation. A similar lack of implementation planning is evident in this report’s findings on succession planning where CEO beliefs (they overwhelmingly are in favor of it) conflict with reality (less than a third actually have succession plans).

The whole report is worth reading and looking over. For those in talent management it’s useful to know trends in leadership that affect how staff interact with and view their managers and executives. Among its findings:

Over 9/10 of CEOs believe that developing leaders in an organization is key to succession planning yet 1/2 would recommend hiring an external candidate to fill the CEO position.

Leaders 45 and under mainly prefer a salary increase whereas those over 45 mainly prefer acknowledgement as an incentive to remain with their current organization.

27% of Leadership Team members are ready to become CEO now and 38% do not aspire to become  EO at all.

So – what do you think? Is this consistent with your organizations? Have you personally seen damaged relationships or unrealized potential due to a non-profit CEO’s overlooking of a critical issue?


Something Worth Reading: Talent Retention and CASE’s “Hire Learning”

I know that talent management is a critical component of development success. This article  from CASE Currents highlights just why. Written by Peter Hayashida (VC for Advancement at UC Riverside) this essay describes the great challenge of turnover in the development field.  Hayashida makes many good points, including:

That leads me to an important point about retention, pay, and performance. In their book,First, Break All the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers. Specifically, they leave managers who don’t properly manage employee performance. Poor performers drag entire organizations down and make high achievers vulnerable to the lure of greener pastures. In development, we tend to promote people with strong technical abilities as fundraisers into managerial jobs but give them little training on the skills required to be successful leaders.

We’ve talked about  the gap between technical and managerial skills, and the challenges of finding good managers, and the difficulty of recruitment before. Peter Hayashida hits one key issue on the head here: effective management is one of the best tools we have to attract and keep valuable talent. In a market where fundraisers are being called about job opportunities multiple times a month, having managers who engage their employees, inspire good performance, and build rapport is going to make the difference in whether your fundraisers stay or go.


In about a month Bentz Whaley Flessner will be releasing the report of its findings from a national survey of frontline fundraisers and what drives their behavior and job engagement. Early glances at this data have consistently pointed to two things: weak management is the top reason listed by those with low job satisfaction, and leadership training is the top topic area where fundraisers want more professional development. We should be able to address both these areas by focusing on building up what it means to effectively manage fundraisers and development teams.


The article also features perspectives of three other experts on diversity, job hopping, and talent management investment. It is definitely worth a read.

Something Worth Reading: The appeal of non-profit leadership in “Work-life demands intense for CEOs at nonprofits”

Those of us who have worked in the non-profit industry for a while can become used to the “when’s your serious career going to start?” sort of questions. But there’s more to this doubt than the lower salaries that come with working at a non-profit organization. Increasingly institutions demand more and more commitment, time, and energy from their staff and leadership. This article post touches on the effect of that pressure on CEOs in particular, but there are several salient points, in particular:

When you lead a nonprofit, where the end game is about making the community a better place to live, the workload can be immense and the emotions intense. It’s a big responsibility – and one that people in their 20s and 30s aren’t rushing to undertake. As the demand for leaders in nonprofits increases, young workers say they don’t want to make the work-life sacrifices required of nonprofit executives…

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about fundraisers and development officers, but fundraising talent in the form of leadership is also often in short supply. Even those who have great potential may be reluctant to take on new leadership responsibilities because the increased pressure and stress that accompanies a promotion are not sufficiently balanced out by job benefits and satisfaction.

Part of the struggle can come from the nature of non-profit leadership. Most non-profit institutions are smaller organizations and with every promotion comes a large jump in responsibility. Individuals therefore tend to shoulder a broader spectrum of responsibility for an organization’s success, and, if something does go wrong, staff don’t face a loss in “profit” – they are in a position to see and feel responsible for a gap in services provided or institutional impact.

We do have a silver lining, one that applies to most non-profit staff members in general – the great privilege of working to do good and using you passion, education, and time to change the world. The article acknowledges this as well. The question becomes then, how do we utilize team members’ passion and enthusiasm for an organization and it’s mission without burning stars out too early?

5 Contingency Plans for When Hiring a New Fundraiser Has Stalled

It’s a recurring problem for many development shops – you have an open senior fundraising position, either newly vacated or newly created, and, after publically posting the position, you have little to no response and/or the group of applicants is not what you wanted. Your hiring process has stalled. More often than not this happens most acutely when your office is in desperate need of filling the position and there is an urgency to find the right person. Now you are stuck putting off other important work so that you can find the right person for this job, delaying work timelines, lowering your fundraising results, and adding more stress to your already heavy load.

stressed guy

This guy is thinking about reviewing the third round of applicants.

So – what do you do next? Here are 5 contingency plans to consider.

Plan BRevising the Job Description and Re-posting

We’ve already touched on the importance of an institution appealing to top performers rather than relying on a high quality applicant pool. A good first step is to review the what and where of your first job posting.  Is it a copy-paste from your institution’s template or does it emphasize the appeal of working in your office? Does it only list responsibilities and task work or is there language on the importance of the position and growth opportunities? If you read the job post as a 3rd party would it appeal to you? Few development shops can simply rely on their institution’s reputation to attract talent; a strong job post accounts for that and uses clear objectives, goals, and benefits to help close the gap.

Additionally, over the past several years the fundraising sector has seen large title inflation. Someone with 5-10 years of frontline fundraising experience could be labeled as anything from a Development Officer to a Major Gift Officer to a Director of Development to a Sr Development Associate to a Sr Capital Projects Manager, etc. (the list goes on and on and on). Do you have the right title for the level of fundraiser you are trying to attract? If you cannot change the title of the open position then it is imperative to have a very clear outline of its seniority  at the beginning of your post. Job posts are easily overlooked if potential applicants do not understand whether or not their background is applicable to the position.

One final component of Plan B is to make sure that you have posted the position in the right locations. The idea is to get as many potential candidates to see the post as possible. Go beyond the careers section of your webpage. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pay to post on the big sites (, Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed, etc.), but you can focus on national sites for non-profit/development (devex, idealist, etc.) or philanthropy-oriented association or publication job boards (AFP, Chronicle of Philanthropy, non-profit times, AHP, etc.). If you have local universities or colleges with strong career services you can also access their alumni through their job boards.

Plan C: Using Your Office’s Network

We’ve talked about how employee referrals make the strongest new hires. Have you kept in contact with your network in the development field? If you have staff members who would be peers to the open position, then chances are they know other similarly experienced individuals who might be a good fit (if your team does not want to refer anyone then there are likely to be larger problems at hand). Do you work with an external consultant? Many have extensive networks and can at least steer you towards strong individuals who are looking for a change.  If a formal job post is not attracting the candidates you want, try to identify a group of people directly or indirectly connected to your office whose interest you might pique and reach out to them.

Plan D: Contract a Talent Search Firm

With the level of competition for talent in development, especially with regards to senior positions, sometimes the easiest option is to bring on an external firm to manage the recruitment and screening of candidates. While the expense for this plan can be great, bringing on a search firm brings three benefits to the process: it reduces the amount of staff and managerial time devoted to the candidate search, it accesses a pool of candidates that the firm has already screened and knows to be searching for new positions, and it can significantly reduce the length of the position’s vacancy and bring someone on board sooner. There are several companies that focus specifically on fundraising and development and have decades of contacts to reach out to, an advantage you might not otherwise have.

Plan E: Re-evaluate Your Expectations

Sometimes we simply has unrealistic expectations for the positions we have put together.  Perhaps the position really covers too many areas for any one person or the position’s seniority doesn’t match the experience expectations or the offered salary just isn’t competitive. For examply, you need a campaign manager and only want candidates who have at least 10+ years of frontline experience in your field, can boast of experience with major capital campaigns, have managed a senior team in prior positions, and are comfortable in front of boards. Chances are individuals with that level of experience will be looking for a position more senior than “campaign manager.”  You might want a planned giving director with a law degree and 5-10 years of experience, but can only offer a salary of $75k in San Francisco.  That’s going to be hard to compete with the salaries offered by other institutions and law firms.

If your hiring efforts have consistently had low results then it may be time to re-evaluate your expectations for the position. Ask yourself these questions: What experience is absolutely necessary for this new hire to be successful? Am I offering enough compensation, seniority, benefits, etc. to appeal to the caliber of candidate that I am demanding? Sometimes this can be as simple as boosting the offered salary by $10-20k; other times it can be as complicated as revisiting the responsibilities and creating a new level of leadership that better  reflects a vertical move (rather than simply lateral) for the type of applicant you seek.

Plan F: Re-imagine the Position and Staff Organization

Sometimes, despite your best efforts and outreach, you simply cannot find the right person for the job you created. Maybe your organization is in a small town in Arkansas and you couldn’t entice any candidates with the right experience from the big city. Maybe your institution is still fighting a stint of bad publicity or controversy. Regardless, sometimes the best thing to do is to adapt in the face of the hiring gap. Assume the position can’t be filled by an external candidate. Who internally could step up? If you have a team member with great potential but limited experience look into personal coaching and professional development options to build their capacity and skill sets and increasing support staffing for a new work load.  If your open position required both leadership gift fundraising and program management consider splitting those duties to better match the talent that you do have (it’s extremely hard to find strong fundraisers who can also effectively manage and lead a program).

The longer a senior position is open (especially one critical to the agenda of your institution such as a campaign manager or leadership gifts officer), the more expensive it becomes to fill that position. Meanwhile your team can lose focus and divert time better spent on other activities as you go through yet another round of applications, interviews, and disappointments. It’s better to always have a contingency plan in place (or five).

Something Worth Reading: Rethink hiring development talent through the article “Stop Using a Left Brain Process for a Right Brain Situation”

I stumbled over this article post today while perusing linkedin. It’s definitely something to get you thinking. Lou Adler, whose specialty is performance based hiring talks about reimagining how you think about recruiting and attracting talent. One of his most salient points is:

Most left-brained hiring processes are designed from left to right, weeding out the unqualified candidates and force-fitting those that remain into a pre-defined job. A right-brained, more creative process is designed from right to left. It’s purpose is to attract the best by emphasizing what the person will be DOING and could BECOME. In this way what the person GETs is not a filter to engage in a conversation, but part of a balanced negotiation. ….

The traditional default left-to-right hiring process begins by posting a skills-infested job description. This process will only work in a talent surplus situation where there is an excess supply of good people available. It also assumes that the best, fully-qualified people are willing to take lateral transfers. This alone limits the number of qualified and highly motivated people who apply. Worse, the process won’t work in a talent scarcity situation when the demand for talent outstrips the supply. In this case, an “attract the best” approach is essential. 

How many organizations have you seen realize they need a new principal gifts officer or high-level database manager and the first thing they do is post a job description with 20 bullets on proven experience and background desired of the candidate? Mr. Adler points out that this mechanism only will work when you have many candidates to choose from and simple need one to meet the base and to fill. In a talent scarcity situation, which describes the development field as the data has told us again and again, this process actually limits both the talent pool you reach as well as the qualifications and appeal of the position itself. The best performers need to be attracted to the position.

So, when it’s time to hire someone new (or even when looking at retaining and growing your existing talent), try thinking from the other side of Adler’s spectrum and ask yourself – what does this position offer the candidates beyond a salary? What opportunities do we provide that will make a top candidate choose us? Non-profits have an advantage in this area because their mission and vision tend to fulfill a social desire to do good, but they tend to fall behind in demonstrating that their open positions can impact someone’s personal and professional goals as well as their pocketbook.

Something Worth Reading: The Chronicle’s “Ask an Expert: New Fundraiser Lacks Experience, a Budget, and Organizational Support”

I stumbled over this blog post today at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It’s worth reading – Barron Segar of the US Unicef fund offers advice to a newcomer to the field of fundraising who, for some reason, has been tasked with running a full fundraising initiative separate from the organization’s larger development officer. Mr. Segar offers good advice to the newcomer regarding an upcoming event, resources for small scale training, and beginning to manage prospects, but his best advice comes at the end: 

Join the fundraising department. Finally, you have to be part of development, rather than competing with that team. The optimum thing would be for the development director to bring you into that department. If you cannot approach the development director because that person is not your supervisor, then try talking to your program director. As a peer of the director of development, your program director may be able to talk about the challenges you face by operating in isolation.

This touches on something that pops up in many non-profit institution. Competing with colleagues over prospects, fundraising resources, and leadership attention works against the interests of all development programs and the institution in the long run. An immediate inefficiency in this sort of division can be found in the unnecessary redundancy in resources, database tracking, prospect management, and staff time.

A larger issue with competing development programs within one institution is rooted in the fact that donors do not look at DOs or leaders from different programs as independent actors;  donors and prospects view non-profit staff members first and foremost as institutional representatives – the department is secondary to that role regardless of whether a person works in development, alumni/constituent outreach, the front office, support staff for leadership, or program implementation.

This is not to say that those big organizations can not have multiple development programs (it makes sense, for example, for a medical school/hospital to have a separate program from a university’s regular development programs), but rather that development staffing programs should complement each other and have clear, open channels for coordinating efforts with prospects and utilization of top leadership.