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 II

Last week we discussed two of the essential principles for training new major gift officers: understanding the donor perspective and clear definition of the donor cycle. This week we have three more. Beyond orienting fundraisers to the nature of major gift philanthropy, organizations must seek to broaden the aptitude of these professionals to work with their colleagues and adequately represent their institutions. Leadership can do this through offering:

A Deeper Understanding of the Functionality and Capacity of Central and Operations Teams

Hand in hand with providing fundraisers clearer expectations of what working with donors looks like, an organization must partner with these individuals to set expectations for working within a development team. New fundraisers must know, for example, when and what type of additional research will be most useful to them (early career development officers often will get caught in a desire to know everything possible about a prospect before meeting with them). The ability to partner with and utilize the skills of central development teams and operations professionals will give new fundraisers a leg up in their early years as well as lessen the burden of other team members in orienting these individuals to their own programs the hard way (when something goes wrong or a fire needs to be put out).

Opportunities to Practice New Skills and Observe and Learn from Senior Fundraisers

Learning means little without the ability for professionals to put what they have learned into practice. Any formal training session should, therefore, be paired with low-risk avenues for new major gift officers to gain experience in the realities of working with donors. Across the country there are now several institutions tackling this need in creative ways—whether it’s a virtual learning experience utilizing actors or avatars, structured “mock” meetings with close volunteer donors, or role playing in a workshop setting. This “practice space” gives new fundraisers two great things: the chance to get a feel for major giving conversations and valuable feedback from those working with them on what they did well and what could be improved.

Another great resource that many institutions already have lies within the existing senior fundraising team. Exposure to best practices by observing high performers in action can be a very meaningful point in developing new fundraising talent. This type of shadowing helps show novice development officers not only how to respond when a meeting diverts from the theoretical agenda, but also the depth and nature of relationships between an experienced fundraiser and high level donor.

Knowledge of Institutional Strengths, Histories, and Controversies

Your donors and constituents have typically been familiar with your institution longer and in more depth than your junior fundraisers. This gap has to be addressed directly. Donors and prospective donors will expect any development officer they meet with to not only know about their history as donors, but also have a decent grasp of the people, programs, and history of your organization. Whether this be previous controversies that the institution has survived or national championship teams and coaches, training a new frontline officer must include consistent and reinforced building of institutional knowledge.

We’ve seen data time and time again that says that newly hired fundraisers take 3.5–4 years to begin to produce real gift dollar results. For those who are new to the frontline, that ramp-up can take even longer. It’s in our best interest to accelerate this process with new major gift officers through strategic training and education, clear opportunities and exposure to donors and the team, and reinforcement and feedback.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.