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.

5 Resolutions for Better Development Talent in the New Year

1.       Spend more time building a strong team in house.

It’s easy to reward and pay attention to the senior team members and high performers in a development shop. This year we should focus on building a team ready to lead your organization’s fundraising for the next 3-5 years and beyond. Identify 3-4 fundraisers or development operations team members who have high unrealized potential, and then devise a program for professional development and/or mentorship for each. These efforts will not only see a large boost in effectiveness and skill sets, but it will also engage and build confidence amongst a core group that your organization wants to retain.

2.       “Lose weight” across the office

One thing I have learned in working with many development offices and fundraising shops is that team members are often brimming with ideas for office improvements and new projects, but rarely get a chance to present or implement those ideas. Try having 2014 be the year that you let teams own 2-3 projects aimed at streamlining a process, improving communication across development, or protecting time towards direct fundraising activities.

3.       Set aside time for the team and office culture

Time and time again we encounter great talent and team members who leave an institution not because of title or pay but because of a toxic or unsupportive work environment. Be better in 2014 about building a strong office culture that makes fundraisers, support staff, and development operations team members want to come in and contribute their time for your organization. Sometimes the most difficult part of this process comes with identifying what the actual issues facing your office are. Ask you team to contribute to this discussion and listen to what they have to say. Then do your best to address those concerns and create a more positive, supportive space in your development shop.

4.       Be a proactive “recruiter”

Chances are if your organization has more than 6 frontline fundraisers you will either be looking for a new hire or replacing someone in the next 12-18 months. This year try proactively networking and building relationships with local and regional development leaders. Try to identify who the star and rising talent is in your area and professional network and brainstorm about which candidates you might like to add to your team and what your organization would need to do to theoretically recruit them. When the time comes to post a job you will be better organized, prepared, and have a strong idea of where to look and will shorten the hiring process.

5.       Learn a new trick/skill

For that matter – set the goal to see if everyone on your team can learn at least one new skill in the next 12 months. Low discovery results? Set up a training or a workshop for fundraisers to practice and build cold call skills. Database difficulties? Use the new year as an opportunity to teach new shortcuts or reporting to users. Learning is one of the most powerful sources of employee and team engagement and greatly contributes to job satisfaction and fights boredom.

Five Types of Ethical Non-profit Incentive Pay Structures for Fundraisers

An excerpt from a lively LinkedIn discussion on incentive pay

An excerpt from a lively LinkedIn discussion on incentive pay

We’ve talked about what we do know about incentive pay in the non-profit fundraising sector. I knew this was a hot topic in our field (hence the desire to discuss). The response online (I regularly post this blog in a few linkedin groups), however, demonstrated just how passionate (and articulate) both sides of the argument are. Many of those who opposed incentive pay showed great concern for bonuses negatively influencing fundraiser motivations and behavior.  An ethical incentive pay structure would need to be aware of and account for that concern.

We have seen non-profits who have successfully used incentive pay as a component of their talent management strategy. In general these organizations have structured bonuses in one or a combination of the following five scenarios:

Development Office-wide Bonuses (1)

Most non-profits try to increase overall giving each year, with many boards setting macro goals that are quite ambitious. In the for-profit world this model is often referred to as “profit-sharing”, where the entire team gets an even (or clearly striated) cut of profit over goal each year. In non-profits this type of bonus is uniform across the full development staff (for example: a $2,000, award which is either paid to all eligible participants or to none). The decision as to whether to pay the bonus at the end of the year is based upon predetermined office-wide criteria and goals. In many cases of this model staff participate in the selection of the relevant goals – one of which is always the comprehensive dollar target for the year. The bonus is paid at the end of the year to all staff without regard to individual performance. Either the entire staff receives the bonus or none receive it.

Individual Bonuses based on metrics and goals (2)

Since so many development shops already devote a lot of time towards fundraising metrics  and goal-setting it follows that those who pay individuals bonuses can use those same metrics to determine incentive pay. In this scenario the most common set-up looks at performance versus original goals in 4-5 categories (major gifts secured, proposals presented solicitations, visits, team work, etc). This system is formula-based, with those fundraisers who reach 100% of or exceed all goals to receive the maximum bonus (most frequently 4-5% of base income) and those who fall below goal receiving a calculated, lower payout.  In some cases manager input and qualitative goals do apply here, but they become very difficult and controversial to measure related to actual income.

Team-based incentive payouts (3)

Many institutions, especially those decentralized amongst units and programs, prefer to structure incentive pay around overall team performance in meeting goals, securing income, and building constituent relationships. In about half of these cases incentive pay is determined  by the unit or program’s leadership, while the remainder still have central control over incentive pay. Bonuses are also often divided in these cases into two categories of staff: fundraisers and support staff.

Superstar individual financial recognition (4)

This model is almost entirely used in conjunction with the other incentive pay systems described above.  Usually modeled extensively towards top talent retention and recruitment this type of bonus pay is used to reward those few individuals whose achievements far exceed those of their peers (reaching 110%+ in all goal categories for example). Qualification for this level of recognition is set and known to all staff members and typically less than 4 individuals at an institution qualify each year. The actual payout of the bonus can vary widely, but usually amounts to an additional 25-30% of the bonus level set up by the base incentive pay system.

Hybrid Incentives with Multi-level Goals (5)

This is perhaps one of the most interesting types of programs one can find in incentive pay.  In order to encourage more teamwork and organizational cohesion while stimulating individual performance several institutions set up a set amount for bonuses that is tiered and divided by several categories of performance. An example of how this would look would be:

  • First, if the development officer fails to meet  its goal all bonuses across the board would be decreased by one third.
  • Second, if the team failed to meet its goal, bonuses for all members of the team would be reduced by one third.
  • Third, if the individual failed to meet personal goals, there would be no bonus for that individual.

 

 

You’ll notice that none of these scenarios tie bonuses directly to a percentage of gift income, much less individual gifts. In many cases any income or pay is coupled with “softer” incentives such as flex-time, vacation, etc.  AFP’s argument against such practices remains widely accepted by the non-profit community, even those who implement incentive pay.