The Manager Gap – Why Fundraising Managers Are Important and Five Factors of Ineffective Frontline Leadership

When you dive into the topic of talent management in fundraising and development one key topic arises again and again: the challenge and shortage of effective management, especially of frontline fundraisers. This is an issue that has rebounding implications, as ineffective (or nonexistent) management can cripple an entire program. Prioritizing management of fundraisers is thus important because:

  • Management and leadership drive fundraiser engagement and have a strong determining role in overall retention. Most surveyed frontline fundraisers who reported low satisfaction attributed it to leadership or management elements not compensation, cause, or geographic location.
  • Managing and building strategy for the frontline impacts performance dramatically,both in short and long term. Managers have the ability to not only inspire collaboration and strategic thinking, but they are the key players in meaningful goal setting and professional growth for the fundraising team, but factors largely influence fundraising performance.
  • Managers serve as a critical leadership linkage between institutional initiatives and human capital. Fundraisers focus on donors, rightfully so. Institutions focus on vision and programs. Those who manage fundraisers fill the gap between those two activities, building outcomes from institutional direction and providing focus in individual agendas.

Branson Quote

Managers in development are thus hugely important to building momentum, providing staffing stability, and driving performance. Why does fundraising management fall short so frequently then?

Any combination of the following five factors are typically at play when management of fundraisers is ineffective:

  • (1) Leadership buy into the misconception that, as seasoned professionals, fundraisers require minimal management. Yes, we’ve talked about how high performing fundraisers need to have independence, but the opposite of micro-management is not absence of leadership. Frontline fundraisers frequently report frustrations with their lack of access to and direction from their managers and team leaders. Moreover, donor relations and gift outcomes are optimize by multiple points of contact and clear strategy. Managers who are disengaged from their team negate that opportunity.
  • (2) There is a small talent pool of frontline fundraisers with meaningful management experience. Development and major gift officers are looking to be managed by “one of their own”, meaning that they trust and respond more readily to individuals who themselves have experience as a fundraiser. We’ve talked about the general shortage of frontline fundraising talent across the country, and the shortage is even more pronounced when searching for individuals who both know major gift relationship-building strategy and are comfortable building a budget and negotiating office politics. This leads us to…
  • (3) Fundraising shops are growing rapidly and promoting individuals without professional skill investment.  More and more unit-based and separate fundraising programs require larger teams. As these teams grow the most senior fundraiser is often promoted and management responsibilities are subsequently treated as a “add-on” to existing fundraising responsibilities without meaningful training. Of surveyed fundraisers with 10+ years of experience the most frequently requested training and professional development topic area was in leadership and managing a team. We have a full class of individuals with great fundraising skills and new management expectations, but little support in building their capacity to meet those new expectations.
  • (4) There are rising demands and responsibilities for existing leadership. Plainly, many managers and leaders in development don’t have the time (or don’t believe they have the time) to spend building and engaging their team members. There are too many fires to put out, too many volunteers to respond to, and too many items on the event calendar to plan for, not to mention that these leaders often have high-level portfolios of their own. Non-profit development leaders are often overworked and talent management falls to the bottom of the totem pole too frequently. This can often be a symptom of a larger problem, which is that…
  • (5) The development office and team members aren’t fully valued at an institution. Some organizations operate with the assumption that fundraising exists outside of institutional programming and general engagement. Fundraisers are expected to “do their thing” and bring in money, separate from institutional staff (whether they be program managers, faculty, physicians, or CEOs/Presidents). What this dynamic effectively communicates across an organization is that, not only is development somehow less related to the institutional mission and impact, but also that the happiness and engagement of those who do development work is a lower priority.

Silos Are For Cows, Not for Deans and Development Officers

 

 

cow Having resided for much of my life among dairy farms in either upstate New York or northeast  Wisconsin, I’ve had a lot of exposure to silos—the physical structures in which farmers store grain  for their livestock. But the experiences I’ve had with college and university silos—the  metaphorical but nonetheless very real structures in which schools, departments and disciplines  isolate themselves from the rest of their institution—have been far more profound and always  more troublesome.

The presence of academic and administrative silos within an institution inevitably influences the  behavior of fundraisers who serve those subunits. Such silo-induced thinking leads fundraisers to  act in counterproductive ways that minimize fundraising yields at both the institutional and  subunit levels, mostly because they are focusing on their own program’s bottom-line needs and  not giving primary attention to the interests, motivations and aspirations of their donors.

Top donors usually have multiple points of contact with a college or university they are  supporting; nonetheless, those donors tend to view their multi-faceted colleges and universities as  a single entity. Even if interacting with multiple units and personnel, they are interested in the  overall success and reputation of the entire institution. They also believe—often wrongly—that the  various people and parts of the institution are communicating with one another.

When academic fundraisers operate in silos and do not actively collaborate with their counterparts from other silos, several bad things can happen:

  • Confusion:  Donors may mix up the multiple appeals, confuse which personnel represent which program, forget what gifts they’ve made, or overlook pledge payments.
  • Frustration:  Donors’ confusion can quickly lead to irritation, which may result in reduced giving to one or more subunits—or no giving at all.
  • Inefficiency:  Even when donors give generously to multiple programs, if that giving is not coordinated there is still wasteful duplication of dollars and efforts expended on soliciting and stewarding those gifts.
  • Uncertainty: At some point, a donor who observes a multiplicity of uncoordinated fundraising efforts from a single college or university is going to have doubts about the management and leadership of that institution, which will likely affect that donor’s future giving decisions.

On the other hand, when fundraisers climb out of their silos and collaborate, several positive things can happen:

  • Efficiency:  Eliminating duplication of expenditures and effort means that more resources can be devoted to other donors and other projects.
  • Synergy: When formerly siloed fundraisers collaborate, they create the potential for synergy from sharing of ideas, information and perspectives about a donor that may help both of them be more effective in their solicitations.
  • Teamwork: If two or more fundraisers and their programs coordinate their strategy and tactics, their combined solicitation team can be more persuasive than if they operated separately…and they will also eliminate the possibility of a donor playing one program against the other.
  • Camaraderie:  When fundraisers collaborate,  greater respect, trust and support tend to emerge; from this camaraderie can develop an environment in which colleagues look out for one another and make a point of sharing information and new possibilities.
  • Karma: From a culture of camaraderie and trust may emerge a belief that if a fundraiser in one program shares a promising prospect with a colleague in another program, that act of collaboration will eventually be reciprocated by the original beneficiary and/or by other colleagues.
  • Donor-centricity:  If we de-emphasize what’s best for our unit and our own best interests, the focus will shift to what’s best for our donors. When that happens, donors will become more fully engaged with our institutions, become more informed and excited by all that we’re doing, and ultimately increase their overall giving—often to the benefit of the fundraiser and unit that took the initiative to expand the donor’s engagement.

Some readers will no doubt react to this mini-rant against siloed fundraising as self-evident and a description of behavior in which they and their institution would never engage. If that’s indeed the case, you have my congratulations and admiration. But fundraising in silos remains a far more common phenomenon that I’d like to think, and my visits to several large, multi-faceted universities over the past year have confirmed for me that it’s still alive and impeding progress at numerous institutions.

I am a firm believer in doing the right thing and seizing opportunities to expand a donor’s engagement with our institution, even it means “sharing” our best prospects with other. I believe this because I think it’s philosophically the right thing to do. But I’ve also witnessed how it’s good for business and ultimately pays off.

The most illustrative example from my career involved a top donor to the school I served at a complex research university. While the donor had been generous to our school by most any measure, we knew he had the potential to do much more, but numerous attempts had failed to unlock it. Then, after discovering our friend had a passion for architecture and historic preservation, I persuaded my dean that if he were to introduce the donor to the leaders of our historic restoration program the donor and the university leadership would all appreciate his sharing. Skipping over a lot of detail to get to the end of the tale, I can report that the donor did indeed become very involved in the historic restoration effort, was appointed to the university’s governing board, and made an eight-figure pledge to the university’s next campaign. And my dean—the one who shared this generous donor with others at the university—received from the donor a naming gift for a new facility that far exceeded any of his previous gifts to the school, as well as a coveted award for community-spirited contributions to the university.

For more about the dangers of silos and the benefits of cross-division collaboration, I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s enjoyable 2006 book, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors (http://www.tablegroup.com/books/silos). According to Lencioni, silos—and the turf wars they enable—devastate organizations by wasting resources, killing productivity and jeopardizing results.  His book provides useful advice on how to “eliminate the invisible barriers that separate work teams, departments and divisions, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.”

 

 

Thinking about the personality of your fundraisers: A breakout of extroverts and introverts in development

In recent conversations a recurring  question has come up: In a field dominated by “people who love people” can introverts be successful fundraisers?

The answer to that question seems to be consistently affirmative. However, it’s important to think about how, as talent managers and supervisors to fundraisers, we utilize the strengths of fundraisers whether they are introverted and extroverted.

Keep in mind that, as Myers-Briggs (among others) has shown, personality is not an either-or equation. We all exist along a continuum of extroversion-introversion and some introverts may possess a traditionally extroverted strength.

intro extrovert infographic

 

 

Something Worth Reading: Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Matter (from LinkedIn)

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this article on LinkedIn. The article, entitled “Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Matter” is written by Jim Clifton (CEO at Gallup) and asserts that focusing on job perks and striving to be atop “best places to work” rankings doesn’t actually improve performance. He continues to argue that:

Employees don’t want to be “satisfied” as much as they want to be engaged. What they want most is a great boss who cares about their development, and a company that focuses on and develops their strengths. Trying to satisfy employees’ appetites for free lunches, lattes, and ping pong tables is giving people something they don’t deeply want — and that isn’t natural or good for them.

There are a few things to consider about Mr. Clifton’s assertions here:

  • First – the article and study that he references are incredibly interesting. You can find the summary here and the report in full here. Its data indicates a point that I think Mr. Clifton neglects to emphasize in his article: that both superficial perks and traditional benefit incentives pale in employee impact when compared to more strategic engagement.
    • It would be interesting to see what impact specific incentives have not on performance, but on recruitment. Stronger candidates are likely unable to really assess employee engagement. So, while they may not play a larger role in employee performance, it is entirely possible that being a “best place to work” attracts higher caliber candidates initially. In a field like development where the talent pool is extremely limited – it is difficult to rely on selectivity of candidates to build a stronger program (as the Gallup report advises).
  • There is the implication here that employee satisfaction is irrelevant to effective management. However, neither Mr. Clifton’s article or the full report actually benchmark, define, or attempt to measure satisfaction or assess its correlation to employee engagement. It seems that they use the term “satisfaction” to loosely cover everything that is not considered engagement. Plus this approach allows them to use a title as eye-catching as “employee satisfaction doesn’t matter.”
  • Clifton’s strongest point is that management is largely responsible for establishing and reinforcing a culture of employee engagement. “A winning culture is one of engagement and individual contribution to an important mission and purpose.”

 

Other interesting data points from this report that I found include:

  • The percentage of employees across the US who are engaged has not changed much at all since 2000 (it remains around 30%)
  • Companies with less than 10 employees had the highest ratio of engaged workers.
  • Organizations who are in a hiring phase have 30% more engaged employees than those who are cutting jobs (not a surprise there)
  • Millennials, even when engaged, are more likely to look for new jobs and opportunities.
  • Vacation time is not necessarily a good tool to attract your ideal talent. “Engaged employees who took less than one week off from work in a year had 25% higher overall well-being than actively disengaged associates — even those who took six weeks or more of vacation time.”
  • Employees who spend part of their time working from home are, on average, more engaged and put in more hours than their counterparts.
  • Remote Workers: Balancing Collaboration With a Sense of Freedom

 

 

So how can we apply this data to the non-profit sector and fundraising? There are a few implications that fundraising managers and leaders should consider:

  • That flex-time and the ability to work from home can actually lead to better engaged employees
  • That engagement is driven by managerial attention and leadership. Strong team managers and leaders are hard to come by in the fundraising world (not coincidentally – in a recent BWF survey weak management or development team leadership was listed as a leading cause of dissatisfaction among frontline fundraisers). Development shops need to be proactive not only in the hiring and recruitment of their talent, but also in the investment and cultivation of strong managers, which results in better retention and performance results.  Frontline fundraisers in particular require a combination of direction from and empowerment by management.
  • That cause and passion about the institution matter. We’ve touched on this before; fundraisers care and are driven by your institution’s mission and impact. The more you can celebrate their contributions to the cause and integrate their activities with the overall culture and impact of your organization the more engaged they will become.

 

We will talk some more about creating and supporting effective managers in a later post. In the meantime – enjoy the end of the fiscal year!

Jumping the Career Track: How traditional staffing structures damage fundraiser retention

We’ve touched on how important rewarding and recognizing performance is to the staff satisfaction and performance of your fundraising team. But immediate recognition and reward is a strategy for building confidence in the short term. But what are some long-term strategies that will keep fundraisers, especially top performers, engaged and invested in your organization?

Turnover is a constant concern for nearly every non-profit fundraising program. In many cases office culture, structures, and leadership impact overall staff and talent retention rates. But for top performers, who may be invested in the cause and office, the reasons for leaving become more nuanced and related to their own desire to grow professionally and be recognized for that growth. Take the chart below of a “typical” (and simplified) career path into major gifts:

Career pathways

There are a few problems with the ladder above.

  • First, there are a limited amount of opportunities for promotion once the gift officer level has been reached. This is the level, usually, where a team member is most desirable for retention – the organization has invested in their growth and development level and their contribution to the institution is poised to greatly increase. For smaller organizations this is an especially detrimental structure because they end up having talented frontline fundraisers that they want to keep, but have no open leadership positions to offer for promotion. What happens most frequently in this scenario is that a fundraiser who wishes to see more career growth is forced to consider external organizations to get to that next step.

 

  • Secondly, once someone gets very successful at donor relations and fundraising, the only options for growth are to take on managerial responsibilities. Effectively we are rewarding those people who do something very well with a job that leaves them less time for the area in which they excel. For the field of fundraising this effectively means that we are diverting human capital from raising gifts.  Most non-profit organizations have a higher need and larger shortage for gift income than they do for management.  Strong management is important in any organization, but, as we’ve touched on before, what makes a strong fundraiser doesn’t necessarily make a strong manager. Furthermore, if an individual has the potential to continue to grow as a fundraiser and bring new and larger gifts to the institution then the priority of managers should be to facilitate that growth, not force a management career path simply because it’s the only one available.

 

  • Thirdly, the path above limits top positions in a development office to major gift professionals, limiting the desirability of development operations positions (who can only rise so far in a traditional organization) and increasing the potential for development leadership teams to lack both strategic management soft skills and fundraising business technical fluency.

 

Titles in Fundraising – Break-out of 4 Urban Healthcare Centers

As I mentioned before, this series of posts will focus on titles, and I will be breaking out titling by categories in the non-profit sector. First we had big public universities and now we will look at urban medical centers (note: none of the cases used were Academic Medical Centers or Health Systems) . I looked at the frontline staffing for 4 hospitals and mapped out the titles that were used. The full chart is below.

A few things of interest:

  • There was more variety and volume with titles with “senior” or “executive”.
  • There seems to be a lot more weight of senior titles here than we found in higher ed.
  • Frontline fundraising staff totals for the five institutions I chose ranged from 10-18.
  • It was more difficult to map seniority and career ladders at each institution. There are fewer clear steps between career stages in titles.

Urban Healthcare Titles

What do you think? Any surprises?

Titles in Fundraising – Break-out of 5 Big Public Universities

As I mentioned before, the next few series of posts will focus on titles, and I will be breaking out titling by categories in the non-profit sector. First up – big public universities. I looked at the frontline staffing for 5 big schools and mapped out the titles that were used. The full chart is below.

A few things of interest:

  • There were 17 Vice President positions related to development between 5 institutions – it looks like the VP title in this grouping is becoming less and less associated with only meaning the CDO or most senior fundraiser.
  • While I excluded explicit support staff, there appears to be set of junior fundraisers coming up through “associate” titles (development associate, constituent relations associate, etc).
  • Frontline fundraising staff totals for the five institutions I chose ranged from 24-76.
  • There were only two individuals with the traditional “development officer” title and one “major gift officer,” with the most frequently used general title being “director of development.”
  • In the broader staff rosters the title “Director” seems to be the favorite for staff positions in both development and advancement services.

 

Big Public Titles

What do you think? Any surprises?