Something Worth Reading: Toxic Employees Hurt More Than Superstars Help

One of the best articles I have seen this spring comes from the Harvard Business Review, entitled “It’s better to avoid a toxic employee than hire a superstar”. You can read it here.

Previously on this blog we’ve talked about toxic employees, the importance of engagement, and the value of high performers. It’s easy to get lost in each of these topics individually, but what HBR does well is capture the overlap of some of the factors involved.

Most notable from the article are:

  • The cost of a toxic employee on other staff exceeds the revenue brought in by a superstar.
  • Toxic employees tend to be productive and in many cases are high performers. They rarely fit the archetype we might have of a lazy underperformer being your biggest problem.
  • Toxic employees have staying power in many cases because of their performance and because they often also have the attractive characteristics of charisma, curiosity, and high self-esteem.

For me the most resounding quote I saw was:

“Overconfident, self-centered, productive, and rule-following employees were more likely to be toxic workers. One standard deviation in skills confidence meant an approximately 15% greater chance of being fired for toxic behavior, while employees who were found to be more self-regarding (and less concerned about others’ needs) had a 22% greater likelihood. For workers who said that rules must always be followed, there was a 25% greater chance he or she would be terminated for actually breaking the rules. They also found that people exposed to other toxic workers on their teams had a 46% increased likelihood of similarly being fired for misconduct.”

So what does this mean in the world of fundraising? For one thing it helps to explain why so many programs have difficulty or reluctance in dealing with toxic employees – they outperform their peers in a world where performance is everything. What happens when we reward that behavior, however, is the pattern of toxic behavior spreads to other team members, in many cases towards high performers who are otherwise good citizens of the organization.

Looking at this study it also occurs to me that we may inadvertently be selecting potentially toxic fundraisers during hiring. Our industry has been building a narrative of traits to look for in fundraisers that has high overlap with the qualities HBR has found are in abundance in toxic employees. In previous posts we have discussed what to look for in hiring, identifying potential, and evaluating fundraisers. While that advice still stands, it ignores one key component that we should look for in order to avoid hiring the confident, productive, yet toxic fundraiser: authenticity. Later this month I will spend some time elaborating on this key concept: how to look for authenticity, how to create an organization that fosters it, and how to leverage it for fundraising success.

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A side note: Many of you may have noticed that the blog has been on hiatus for a few months. This was due to a career move of my own. I am now back up and running. Please continue to comment, send in topic requests, and participate in the discussion.

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Principles of Training New Major Gift Officers—Part 1

The non-profit fundraising sector is in the midst of a major talent shortage, most acutely felt on the frontline. Development officers are getting recruitment calls constantly, even within a few months of moving to a new institution. This model of trading talent back and forth in short intervals to temporarily meet institutions’ hiring demands in unsustainable. Therefore, all development programs should invest, not only in their current fundraisers, but also in building a pipeline of new fundraising talent. To do so, there must be meaningful, deliberate training for those professionals who are new to the field or to major giving. Any institution working with a team of new fundraisers should integrate the following key components into their program.

Exposure to and Understanding of the Donor Perspective

According to recent research from the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent1, the best fundraisers are those who actually mirror the values and perspectives of donors themselves. They give a higher percentage of their own income to charity, donate blood at a higher rate, and believe passionately in the cause of their institutions. Those new to fundraising need to first understand and identify with donors in order to be successful. For those who have been hired from outside of the field (e.g., with a background of sales or marketing), this step is all the more critical. Major giving is very rarely a transactional relationship. In order to connect with prospects and donors and be successful in fundraising, many individuals will have to undergo a paradigm shift.

The upside of this component, however, is that integrating the donor perspective into your training and onboarding presents a fantastic opportunity for donor engagement, stewardship, and volunteerism. By asking donor volunteers to share their stories, serve on panels, and even participate in training new development officers, institutions have established another valuable connection with these philanthropists. In return, the donors are able to see themselves as partners in the health and future of the development program itself.

Definition and Cues of the Major Giving Cycle and Development Team

For someone entering the frontline, the flurry of activities and responsibilities can be overwhelming. As investors in these team members, the development office must have a focused discussion and orientation to the major giving cycle. This should include, not only supplying definitions of how prospects at a certain organization are categorized but also providing meaningful case studies, guidelines, and cues for how individual prospects move through stages. When we work on training faculty members and physicians on being partners in development, we often provide them sample cues and responses that indicate donor interest and readiness. The equivalent of that tool is rarely offered to fundraisers.

In next week’s advisory, we’ll wrap up the essential principles of training new major gift officers.

BWF’s TalentED practice offers one-on-one coaching, intensive training workshops, and talent management counsel to help our clients recruit, retain, and grow a high performing fundraising team. For more information contact us at training@bwf.com.

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.

Rethinking Fundraising Metrics

Data is increasingly driving the world of development. The ability to access and utilize data has changed how teams are shaped, how donors are engaged, and where resources are allocated. In addition, development organizations and major gift teams have rapidly expanded, and new data tools allow real-time fundraiser activity reports to evaluate fundraiser performance.

Simply tracking metrics to evaluate performance, however, will not always predict or measure real performance by these team members. Focusing on one key performance indicator (KPI) can lead to ignoring other meaningful activities and successes. Organizations that don’t reflect on the meaning and strategy related to metrics can inadvertently encourage inefficiencies and non-productive actions in development officers’ quests to meet their annual goals.

Additionally, organizations that don’t properly implement the use metrics to drive performance evaluation can create a disconnect between activity and strategic goals, causing managers to focus on tracking behavior over improving performance. According to BWF’s 2014 Survey of Frontline Fundraisers, approximately half of fundraisers believe that their metrics don’t reflect important activities. For those who have dual responsibilities (managing a volunteer program, leading a team, all while managing a portfolio, for example), there frequently are not concrete measurements for activities that make up sometimes over half of their workload. For others, uniform metrics do not adequately match the workload they face, depending on variance in the warmth of their portfolio, capacity of their prospects, or structural obstacles like leadership vacancies or lack of clarity on priorities that impede their performance.

Unintended side effects of poorly implementing three of the most common metrics in the industry are highlighted below.

Common Metric Rationale Unintentional Side Effect
Number of Visits Fundraiser performance is closely correlated with the amount of time he or she spends in the field and in front of donors. Development officers meet with the same donors repeatedly and do not focus time on discovery or solicitation.The quality of the visit declines, and few strategic objectives are met during meetings with prospects.
Number of Asks Fundraisers should be expected to ask for gifts consistently and proactively. Development officers ask too early in a relationship.Fundraisers ask for smaller than necessary gifts from high-capacity donors, seeking to get a gift on record over working for a long-term investment by the donor.

Cultivation activities are recorded as “asks” when a meaningful solicitation has yet to be made.

Total Gift Income
Raised
At the end of the year you look at what’s counted. Fundraisers’ primary responsibility is raising money. High performers can be penalized for larger asks that are closed after the fiscal year.Low performers can be rewarded by large gifts that come in on their own but are assigned to their portfolio.

There is a desire to “own” as many prospects as possible.

Credit sharing is misused to “tag into” large gifts, creating the impression of performance.

The answer is not to abandon metrics altogether. Many of the challenges described above can be mitigated through proactive management by supervisors and accurate and thorough reporting on metrics. Measuring performance and especially facilitating feedback sessions with team members on the interpretation of those results is a critical component of talent management. Metrics need to therefore:

  • Act as only one component of a larger system of understanding, creating accountability for, and evaluating performance.
  • Take into account a development officer’s tenure and portfolio composition.
  • Be created via collaboration between development officers and supervisors.
  • Be implemented consistently and reported on frequently.

Discussions about areas for skill and knowledge growth and training needs should go hand in hand with this process. This way, professional development can be targeted towards and influence the right activities by development officers.

BWF’s TalentED practice provides customized training and workshop programs to help grow the capacity of development teams. For more information contact us at training@bwf.com.

Originally published May 14, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

Evaluating Your Fundraising Talent? Here are a couple of quick tools to use

A large component of talent management revolves around it’s most basic question: who do we have? Answering this can be more difficult than we think. A full review of who you have on the team requires leadership attention and a commitment to follow up. In development, where we have many levels of leadership, roles and responsibilities, it can be especially easy to focus on one level of the team, while ignoring rising stars and performers elsewhere. Luckily we can borrow some tools from the business world in performance management. The first of which is the well-known 9-box, which is a tool for mapping out team members based on performance and potential.

9 box

An alternative method for categorizing performers can be completed through focusing strategically on current performance and answering key questions relation to the attrition risk and next steps of each team member in a category. A sample visualization of this process can be found below:

rating performers

The visual above can further be applied specifically to development, refining the definitions of the behaviors that merit a ranking of 5 versus 4 versus 3, etc. In my work I have spent quite a deal of time building out a full 1-5 competency matrix for frontline fundraisers, breaking out key competency areas and levels of performance against which managers can evaluate development officers. It has been incredibly interesting and challenging, but the increased clarity pays off as medium and rising performers now more clearly can see what they have to do differently. An excerpt of the model (which has five major competency areas, with 4-5 sub categories each) is below:

compentency excerpt

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?

Fundraiser Procrastination: Name It. Know It. Deal With It.

Procrastination 9

Being an occasional procrastinator, I found myself drawn to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog post titled “Procrastination, Our Old Frenemy.” The item, by Jason B. Jones of Connecticut’s Trinity College, is thought-provoking and challenges those of us who tend to dawdle and delay (as most of us do from time to time) to consider the damage such dilatory behavior can cause.

The Prevalence of Fundraiser Procrastination

During my fundraising days I most often procrastinated when I had to reach out to new prospects or challenging donors. While I’m not proud of that, I do take some solace in knowing that numerous colleagues also engage in similar hesitation and delay. Indeed, when I confessed my fundraising procrastination during a recent TalentED workshop, every head in the room nodded in agreement.IMG_3248

Jones’s article conveniently served as a bibliography of other Chronicle articles on the topic. (I’ve provided links to several of those entries at the end of my post.) The article I found to be most relevant is the aptly titled “Procrastination” from the blog of Shawn Blanc. Blanc explores the causes of general procrastination, which include: lack of motivation, fear, other things we’d rather be doing, the ease with which we’re distracted, feelings of being overwhelmed, stubbornness, and our own pre-existing habits.

Reasons for Fundraiser Procrastination

Blanc’s list is a useful starting point for thinking about the causes of fundraiser procrastination, which I decided include the following:

  • Anxiety and insecurity: Being stressed about talking with strangers, unsure about how they will react, or feeling unworthy of their time and attention.
  •  Fear of rejection: Worrying about be turned down for an appointment or a gift—or about not being welcomed.
  • Absence of confidence: Uncertain about one’s own skills or abilities, lacking in training, or being unsure about the purpose or point of the expected donor contact.
  • Procrastination 10Distractions and lack of focus: Not prioritizing one’s responsibility for building relationships and driving donors toward significant gift commitments, as well as getting derailed by other demands, activities or dramas.
  • Inadequate incentives or accountability: It doesn’t matter greatly to others whether or not donor contacts are completed within a particular timeframe, and the absence of serious consequences doesn’t impart much motivation.
  • Lack of discipline: The fundraiser has never developed the appropriate habits and practices of effective gift officers.

The first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that we have one. I encourage my fellow fundraisers to pause and consider how often, either overtly or subconsciously, they evade their responsibilities for making  timely contact with their assigned donors and prospects—particularly those individuals who are challenging, difficult, unpleasant or simply unknown.

Leadership Strategies for Minimizing Procrastination

It would be ideal if individuals would acknowledge their procrastination tendencies and take their own steps to overcome this impediment. But knowing that “contact postponement” is widespread among gift officers at all levels of experience, I urge managers to proactively help gift officers confront and address this impediment. Drawing upon my own experience, as well as insights from the various Chronicle articles, I recommend that fundraising leaders employ the following strategies to minimize fundraiser procrastination:

  • Heal Thyself: Lead by Example. If you expect those you lead to not procrastinate, then don’t’ engage in those bad habits yourself.
  • Deadlines and Targets. Set times by which critical fundraising calls must be finished, along with weekly goals for completed contacts—including calls to secure meetings, advance relationships, and thank donors for gifts.
  • Procrastination 7Make Appointments. Set aside time each day and/or week during which your fundraisers are expected drop everything else to be in their workspaces making calls. If an extenuating circumstance arises, the missed calling time must be made up immediately.
  • The Buddy System. Encourage fundraisers to have one or more colleagues to whom they are accountable for making their expected contacts. Support staff who work with gift officers can fill this role, as well as help ensure the set-aside time are protected from other intrusions.
  • Self-Rewards. As an incentive, ask fundraisers to schedule their most enjoyable, stress-free tasks for immediately after the expected donor contacts are to be completed.
  • No “Padding” of Portfolios. Every fundraiser develops relationships with certain donors and prospects who they look forward to meeting. Make sure that gift officers don’t fill their time having multiple visits with these low-risk, low anxiety calls.
  • Training and Practice. The most effective antidote to fundraiser procrastination is providing staff with solid training and lots of practice with the activities that often prompt procrastination: getting appointments, cold calls, overcoming objections, and dealing with difficult people.
  • Remember that Fundraising is Fun. Once they get rolling, most fundraisers discover their pre-contact anxieties dissipate. But staff can’t achieve this epiphany until they get out and “just do it.”

Procrastination 1The Blanc article also explores the possibility that “unchecked procrastination bleeds over” into other facets of our work and personal endeavors. Blanc suggests that “having structure and focus in one aspect of our life gives us clarity and momentum that brings structure to the other areas.” His theory is both plausible and encouraging, and it’s one I’m planning to further explore myself.

Do you agree that procrastination is a significant concern among fundraisers and directly impedes our progress? Have I named the correct reasons for it? Have you found other strategies for dealing with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

In the meantime, let’s all commit to helping our staff and ourselves follow through on making the calls, building the relationships, and soliciting the contributions that are central to the success of our fundraising programs and the institutions we represent.

Perhaps you can begin by forwarding this post to another procrastinator. And then log off and start making some calls!

Additional articles and posts about procrastination: