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.
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Thinking Critically About Hiring: Deciphering the Frontline Fundraiser Resume

Originally published October 8, 2014

Fundraising organizations are constantly hiring new talent, both to grow the size of their shops and to replace those fundraisers who have moved on. However, due to the talent shortage the industry faces and the variations among fundraising organizational structures, finding a pool of qualified candidates and identifying which individuals bring the skills, performance potential, and approach needed most by your team can be difficult.

As you look towards your next hire consider the following:

Proactively focus on the people you want. The organizations that do best in fundraiser recruitment are proactive in hiring, not reactive. They look to a pool of previously identified candidates and desirable hires before a position is even open. Development shops should focus on who they would like to join the team in the next two years, not just what specific positions they would like to fill. Then, each open position becomes an opportunity to create the right appeal for the candidate you want.

Similarly by focusing on the hires you want to make, and not only the specifics of a position, you can consider qualified individuals with positions that don’t look like an immediate match but may become the perfect fit. For example, an experienced, high-performing individual who has the title of director of development for a college of engineering might have a passion for art and be the best candidate for partnership with your art school.

Remember that the culture of your particular organization and personalities of your development team may determine which individuals will be most successful. Someone may have the perfect background for a specific program or initiative, but not the right personality for the team involved.

Don’t be blinded by institutional prestige or titles. BWF often observes the 80:20 rule for fundraisers: 20% of your staff are high performers who bring in 80% of gifts and gift income. Choosing a candidate based solely on his or her institution or title runs the risk of choosing a low performer from a high-capacity organization.

Title seniority and responsibility vary widely across the development sector. Individuals might have a senior title yet have no real difference in responsibility from their junior colleagues. Likewise an individual may have a strong history of high performance, but his or her employment history is at an institution that does not use “senior-sounding” titles for promotion.

Be wary and know the signs of “position hoppers.” A recent BWF survey of fundraisers found that generally less than 7 percent are actively seeking new opportunities, while 25 percent are passively open to opportunities that are sent their way. Within this industry there is a subset of “position hoppers” who have resumes filled with 2- and 3-year stints at institutions with increasing title and prestige. Be very cautious with these candidates. Chances are your organization will not be the exception to their rule of taking the next bigger and brighter thing. Considering that true fundraiser performance doesn’t occur until around the 4th year, these sorts of hires are extremely risky for your organization, because in 24–36 months you will face yet another vacancy and a portfolio of partially developed prospects.

Look for a history of strategy over activity. Many position descriptions for fundraisers request some history of soliciting gifts at a certain level. While a history of actual gifts secured can demonstrate competence and qualification, the candidate’s ability to use and create strategy to secure those gifts and to build the donor relationship is a more valuable predictor of success. There are fundraisers who technically have secured 7- and 8-figure gifts merely by having the luck of a particular prospect being assigned to their portfolio.

Look for individuals who can both articulate the relationship building and challenges of securing a gift and demonstrate results, not necessarily those who just have the right numbers. For candidates from a smaller organization, the strategy, outreach, and engagement required of a $50,000 gift might far exceed that of another candidate with a higher capacity prospect pool and established program.

Ultimately, a fundraiser must do four things: contribute to the institutional culture, add value to the team, increase capacity in reaching and engaging donors, and secure major gift commitments. Filling a position haphazardly or waiting for the perfect candidate to appear will result in bad hires, decrease donor outcomes, and can negatively impact team morale. Look for the candidates who demonstrate their qualities and results to you, not just allude to it with a resume, and you will be a step ahead.

Something Worth Reading: Deloitte University Press Global Human Capital Trends 2014

deloitte report coverDeloitte has released a new and very interesting report, Global Human Capital Trends. This report, which looks at trends across the for-profit and non-profit sector has some great data on the challenges faced by industries reliant on skilled, high-level human capital. In particular the report draws attention to the following:

This year’s 12 critical human capital trends are organized into three broad areas:

  • Lead and develop: The need to broaden, deepen, and accelerate leadership development at all levels; build global workforce capabilities; re-energize corporate learning by putting employees in charge; and fix performance management
  • Attract and engage: The need to develop innovative ways to attract, source, recruit, and access talent; drive passion and engagement in the workforce; use diversity and inclusion as a business strategy; and find ways to help the overwhelmed employee deal with the flood of information and distractions in the workplace
  • Transform and reinvent: The need to create a global HR platform that is robust and flexible enough to adapt to local needs; reskill HR teams; take advantage of cloud-based HR technology; and implement HR data analytics to achieve business goals

These three themes are especially applicable to strategic talent management in fundraising. We’ve discussed the importance and difficulty of leadership in development as well as the role of engagement in retention.  The third element in the quote above reflects a rising consciousness in the development field. How we think about human resources globally needs to shift towards better strategy and comprehensive approaches.

Many development shops have only recently invested in owning their own team for hiring, overseeing, and training staff. Those that have succeeded have seen better results not only in the quality of their new hires, but in overall retention, engagement and satisfaction. Talent management needs to be more than conference attendance and a one-day orientation of new hires; it needs to be constantly adapting, assessing, and utilizing the engagement and skills of the team members of an organization. In fundraising we have many tools (metrics, analytics, professional seminars and conferences, database and portfolio management, etc). As development managers it is our responsibility to weild these tools meaningfully, while we apply some of the key traditional HR concepts described in this report.

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.

 

The Three Fundamental Questions in Talent Management

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:

question mark

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.

The Abundance of Titles in Frontline Fundraising

I’m going to focus the next few posts about the diversification and inflation of titles in fundraising-related positions.

Title inflation is the new hot topic in talent management in the field (something we’ve brought up before). It can be a struggle to retain or recruit fundraisers without being able to offer them a bump in position (even if that bump is only in name). In many cases this can result in a false inflation of titles that may not directly correlate to level of experience or leadership responsibilities. Some institutions refuse to update name titles, however, either due to institutional regulations or leadership direction. Furthermore, there is little to no consistency in the hierarchy of these new titles, resulting in a decent amount of confusion. Below is a visual example of what a hiring manager in the non-profit sector might have to navigate to find a new hire. Keep in mind the categories below could each be further broken out in 4-5 ways depending on unit titles, additional responsibilities, seniority at the institution, and recruitment endeavors.

Frontline Fundraisers map

In the next few posts I will be doing a mapping of what titles specifically are commonly used in the non-profit sector, broken out by institutional type. Keep your eyes peeled or follow targetingfundraisingtalent.wordpress.com to make sure you don’t miss these updates!