Successful educational fundraisers know that faculty and academic leaders can be invaluable allies in building productive relationships with donors and securing funding for institutional priorities. Deans, department heads, professors and researchers possess a deep understanding of the programs they direct, as well as a credible and persuasive passion for those initiatives that few professional fundraisers can match.
Unfortunately these potential partners are often reluctant to engage in the cultivation and solicitation of prospective benefactors. Their hesitation can be rooted in a lack of understanding about how major gift fundraising is conducted, anxieties about asking for money, fear of rejection, or even concerns that a donor may attempt to exert control over their work. On the other hand, their perceived reluctance might also be a simple case of not being invited to participate.
In his recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay, “Don’t Fear Fund Raising: Matching Donor Passion to Your Department’s Needs,” Texas Tech professor and dean David D. Perlmutter does an excellent job of demystifying the fundraising process for his fellow academicians. Perlmutter’s piece provides insights into the process of setting fundraising priorities, clarifying and articulating those needs, and underscoring the uncomfortable notion that what most excites faculty members may not be what resonates with donors.
Perlmutter’s most important lesson, however, is, that effective educational fundraising is usually an iterative process and that our greatest successes often follow the rejection of an initial approach. Accordingly, faculty and administrators must be prepared to listen actively, “be willing to shift gears,” seek to “recast and redirect” their appeal, and “leave the door open” for future discussions, even when the first appeal proves unsuccessful.
So if you are a department chair, director of a center, or dean of a college, what should you do if you find that what the donor wants is not what you need? …. Be willing to shift gears. Don’t be hypnotized by your agenda. Keeping your priority list handy does not mean you should ignore out-of-the-box opportunities.
Dean Perlmutter’s terrific insights, however, are not enough to prepare academic leaders for fundraising success. Institutions committed to actively and effectively engaging faculty and academic leaders in the fundraising process must also be committed to providing education and training for these key allies.
In addition to demystifying the fundraising process, a training program for faculty, department heads and deans will also supply them with the perspectives, tools and techniques they need to hone and articulate their priorities and to successfully engage and build relationships with donors. After helping lead workshops this summer for academic leaders at several TalentED clients, I found it both remarkable and satisfying to observe the resulting relief, excitement and resolve among our participants once they were been equipped with the tools for success.
So make the most of this readily accessible talent pool at your institution by ensuring your faculty and academic leaders receive the perspective, preparation, encouragement and support they need to maximize their chances for fundraising triumphs. Don’t leave it to chance.
It’s a constant struggle in the development world to find and keep talented fundraisers and staff. Institutions of all sizes are facing budgetary struggles and, as a result, are prioritizing private support, launching campaigns, and reorganizing resources. The size of fundraising programs across the nation is growing, but the talent pool of qualified, effective fundraisers is simply not growing fast enough to meet the new demand. Development shops of all sizes are competing for frontline talent, and very few are winning. Below are some tips for what non-profits can do to better find, attract, and recruit fundraising talent.
A popular saying—the best defense is a good offense—comes to mind as being especially applicable here. The direct cost of losing a development officer can be anywhere from 1.5 to 2 times his/her salary. The indirect cost of such a loss, however, is much greater as the vacant position results in lost portfolio yield and gaps in critical prospect relationships. The best fundraising shops are those who build recruitment strategies before vacancies arise. Some ways of doing this are:
- Building talent internally and establishing programs that identify high potential individuals from within the institution and training them in frontline fundraising.
- Creating a “wish list” of individuals and their related qualities that would fit well within your institution and focusing on building relationships with those people so that when an opportunity does arise, a few candidates have already been identified. At the very least, this process gives managers an idea of the traits that have great value when searching for new hires.
- Offering incentives for staff referrals for open positions. People who are already familiar with your shop will be able to be strong judges of who will fit in. Fundraisers are also natural networkers, so encouraging referrals will extend the reach of job postings. A bonus to this strategy is that staff referrals can be used as a gauge of staff satisfaction; if few members of your team are eager to share openings with their contacts then there is a good chance that they don’t view the work environment to be strong and vice versa.
Look for Consistency in Experience
One of the worst possible outcomes of hiring a new fundraiser is to invest in finding and onboarding the individual only to have him/her leave within 24 months. It’s easy enough for both strong and weak performers to hop from institution to institution chasing promotions. One thing that strong performers in frontline fundraising have in common, however, is a passion for the non-profit cause. Passion for the cause of their institution is consistently listed as a top driver of personal satisfaction and inspiration for fundraising stars. When reviewing applicants and candidates, development shops should value consistency in both the length of time at previous organizations as well as the overall cause ethos of the individual’s background. A development officer who is driven by cause as well as ambition is more likely to choose institutions that serve a similar community or mission.
Create an Appealing Offer
Salaries and titles for frontline fundraisers are seeing more and more inflation as the demand for talent continues to exceed the supply. As a result, many fundraising shops are upping the ante of what they can offer new hires. Those who are succeeding in this area, however, are creating offers that present more than just a salary bump and new title. Flexible benefits, vacation, and professional development opportunities create great appeal to candidates. Including these items in offer conversations also communicates to job candidates that your organization values employee development and work-life balance, making the position all the more desirable.
Ultimately the institutions that do the best in hiring are those who don’t have to do it too frequently. Follow-through and commitment to talent development and management is critical to development shop success. Successfully hiring a new fundraiser is only the first step in filling a talent need in your office. Planning out and implementing the next ten steps after he/she comes onboard are just as important to reach your goals.
Copyright © 2014 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.
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.
We’ve spent time talking about talent, what makes good fundraisers, what to look for in incentive structures, and the role of titling. Talent management, especially in a sector as competitive as development, is a complex process, but almost every element related to this array of challenges can be boiled down to one of three fundamental questions.
The questions (and what they mean) are below:
1. Do we have the right people?
This question really can be broken down to one big idea: talent composition. When thinking about whether or not you have the right quantity or quality of talent, one should focus on institutional objectives. What is your non-profit trying to accomplish in its fundraising program? Can you tie those objectives to expanded or existing responsibilities for specific team members or positions? If not, that means that there is likely a gap in your staffing that needs to be filled. If so, your next question should assess whether there is confidence in the skill level and breadth of these individuals to meet the goals set out before them. For example, a new objective could be to triple gift income designated towards an existing program, but if the giving team program is inexperienced or already maxed out in workload you do not have the right people to reach that goals even if you can trace responsibility initially.
Similarly, the level of skill required to meet goals can be higher than what is found among existing staff members. If a development shop wants to go after 7 figure gifts in New York City it will need a seamless operations team to handle the $1M+ gifts and fearless, versatile frontline fundraisers who can converse fluently about high level wealth and have a proven ability to get new gifts. In all likelihood the organization entering this goal area will not have the right level of talent immediately available.
2. Are our people in the right place?
Take the scenario described above, where a team is unable to meet the existing or new demands placed upon it. This type of occurrence doesn’t necessarily mean that you are required to bring someone new on board. Rather, the next question to think about is where your top talent is. Non-profit talent management is all about minimizing cost and maximizing outcomes – one key way to do so is to match staff members with positions that best fit their skills. For example, if your development shop has three top priorities, it follows that you should ensure that the institution’s strongest talent are positioned to work towards or lead the efforts related to those priorities.
In a different example you may have a strong leader on your team. He is a stellar frontline fundraiser and has strong relationships with board members who can easily open new doors. Since his performance has been so strong he has been put in front of a new team to manage. This new position effectively reduces the time he can spend fundraising by half. Unless this individual strongly desires the management responsibilities or there are sufficient other fundraisers who can maintain similar high level donors relationships this new position may leave a gap in current performance and fail to utilize his greatest strengths towards institutional goals.
3. Are team members reaching their full potential?
This question related to two levels of potential: current efficiency and work quality and long-term potential and growth. If you look at questions #1 and #2 and feel confident that the size, skill, and organization of team members are all effective, but are still dissatisfied with performance this question should be the launching point for identifying the problem. Are team members under-performing because they don’t have sufficient staff support or there is a negative office culture? Perhaps the structures supporting the team are insufficient and don’t give teams the tools they could use to be more effective. In the area of long-term potential you may have individuals with strong performance, but very high capacity that aren’t getting the training and coaching that would help them be even better.
Using these questions in problem-solving.
To look at this process from another angle – these three questions are useful to diagnose existing frustrations or challenges you currently face. Take any struggle, high turnover in a critical program for example. Do you have the right people in the program? High turnover often happens when position responsibilities are too voluminous or technical, thus overwhelming or overextending employees. Are your people in the right place? A weak or disorganized leader may discourage retention or perhaps there’s highly technical element that requires a stronger partnership across the organization. Are team members reaching their full potential? A common reason for leaving offered in exit interviews is that there is no room for advancement so staff members feel undervalued and underused. These questions help you identify the root of problems that any office encounters and lead to stronger solutions moving forward.
The talent management process and strategy-building comes into play once you answer these questions. Talent management is designed to be the “what’s next?” when institutions realize that they don’t have the right people, or their talent isn’t organized effectively, or performance is below where it should be. We will talk a little bit later about what your most effective options are when you look at your staffing related to these questions and come up short.
On an unrelated note – I will be at the AFP International conference this weekend in San Antonio. Stop by the Bentz Whaley Flessner booth 539 and say hello, ask me any questions you may have about talent management, or share some feedback on your own talent management struggles.
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?
In follow up to this post I’ve created this infographic breaking out a few ways to think of development officer time and how important it is to focus your fundraisers on fundraising. Every time a fundraiser’s time is diverted from major giving there is a loss of potential gift income. These two hypothetical situations demonstrate how and why this is so.