Four Ways Managers Can Better Motivate Fundraisers and Support Development Officer Growth

We spend a lot of time in this field talking about the struggles of hiring new development officers and fundraisers and devote even more time dissecting and understanding what motivates donors and volunteers, but little time has been spent discussing what actually motivates and inspires fundraising staff members. 

High fives, unfortunately, are not on the list.

High fives, unfortunately, are not on the list.

 

Earlier this week we talked about incentive pay and we will see several follow-up posts on the debate of the role of fundraiser “bonuses” in the non-profit sector. For now, however, I’d like to spend some time thinking about how organizations can motivate and drive performance of their fundraisers outside of an incentive pay structure.  Below are four ways that managers and organization directors can motivate and inspire better performance from their fundraisers:

1. Provide leadership and be a fundraiser’s ally in the office.

Running a development shop can be  a handful and it is easy to forget that fundraisers, even those with a decade plus of experience, need leadership and support. Managers can prioritize being available and visible for fundraisers, listening to their feedback and being an ally in reforming systems and structures to better facilitate development work. In a recent survey of a client’s staff nearly half of those surveyed reported low job satisfaction. When asked to detail the reasoning behind their answers the most frequently cited concern was a lack of leadership attention and support. As one fundraiser stated:

I would …like to have a resource on the senior team, someone to hear my opinions and guide me in a career path, rather than someone who I do not even have a regular weekly meeting with.

Senior teams can get so preoccupied with running an office that they lose sight of the challenge and complexity of the day-to-day work of their staff members. Fundraisers who have regular contact with senior managers feel more comfortable discussing difficult prospects, job concerns, and bringing in others for donor relations and solicitations. This, in turn, improves overall results.

2. Connect team members to programs and the impact of your organization’s mission and work.

I have yet to meet someone who decided to work at a non-profit to make money. One close contact of mine left a career in venture capital to serve as executive director for an organization supporting homeless families. He is closely connected to his work and can talk for hours about the lives impacted by his non-profit. It’s genuine passion that drives what he does. Donors and board members recognize that passion and respond accordingly.

Fundraisers can get stuck in the day to day cycle of scheduling meetings, reviewing reports, and delivering rehearsed messaging. Those who more regularly participate in and facilitate the communication of a non-profit’s impact find the work more rewarding and are motivated to do more. Managers should ask themselves if their fundraising teams get the chance to see the mission realized of the organization. In a meeting with a new hire or job candidate the topic of a specific mission and non-profit’s good work will almost always be featured as a driver for why they sought a position with you in the first place.  If you asked your seasoned fundraising team to tell you why they work at your institution now, would the mission or impact feature in the top 3-4 reasons listed?

3. Recognize and celebrate outstanding work.

We spend a lot of time talking about metrics (and with good reason). Most fundraisers are very familiar with the statistics and numbers behind their goals and performance reviews (assuming that their managers are communicating those metrics clearly as they should be). They realize what benchmarks define “success” for the year. However, the most effective managers are those who treat metrics as a baseline expectation for performance, not the highlight.

Some people feel wary acknowledging fundraiser performance because it can feel callous to celebrate and congratulate an individual for the generosity of another, but recognizing performance doesn’t have to happen in such a rote manner. If a fundraiser comes up with a creative way of stewarding a planned gift that dramatically improved the relationship with a donor that should be celebrated. When board members specifically call out someone on your team as helpful or wonderful to talk to that is an achievement. You team should know that you notice and valuable the intangible qualities they bring to their job in addition to meeting expectations for gift income. Furthermore, when ambitious goals are met and surpassed that doesn’t just mean that the fundraiser did an outstanding job but that new relationships were forged in the interest of a larger mission for good. That’s something to be celebrated. When staff members feel that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated they, in return, commit more energy towards their work.

4. Support creativity and team brainstorming.

In that same survey mentioned above we found that, even though many staff members felt low job satisfaction, nearly everyone provided concrete ideas for new projects and systems improvements. The nature of fundraising itself requires adaptability and creativity; why not translate those skills towards team building and collaboration? Creative people find work most rewarding when there is room for innovation and they can think critically in a positive way. Development offices that provide an outlet for that energy and allow staff members to work together and lead change within a program (within reason of course) foster a more rewarding environment for employees. The nice side effect of this practice is you often see improvements in structures and efficiency as well as build rapport between teams.

What do you think? What do you think drive development officer performance?

Advertisements

Four qualities of strong potential development officers

In a previous post we discussed how frequently fundraisers do not fall into an even bell curve. It’s very difficult to find and keep those frontline fundraisers who excel and consistently bring in big gifts. A good first step in the process is thinking critically about how to identify a potential star fundraiser in the first place.

IMG_4821

There are four consistent, personality-based attributes that make individuals more successful fundraisers:

  • Strong communication skills: from picking up the phone to in person calls to drafting acknowledgement letters to preparing leadership for prospect meetings a fundraiser needs to excel at communication. Think about the sort of person who can talk about almost any topic – the individual who always finds something interesting to say. While communication skills can be taught and improved to a certain extent, those who have a natural inclination will always be a step ahead. Do not underestimate writing skills in this area as well. Written outreach and engagement with prospects will be included in almost any cultivation strategy and a poorly written or impersonal message can do more damage to a relationship and be harder to redress than a stutter in person.
  • Independence: We like to talk about fundraising teams a lot. And, while development operations/advancement service, support staff, and management do provide huge contributions to the fundraising process, much of frontline fundraising is one-on-one. A development officer is frequently the only person in the room with a prospect. Moreover, no matter how many KPIs (key performance indicators) or metrics that a manager might set ultimately it is the DO that controls the management of her fundraising portfolio as well as scheduling and outreach to prospects. Effective fundraisers thus tend to be fairly independent and self-motivated. They should be comfortable with and capable of making strategic decisions while working with prospects without second guessing themselves or choosing inaction. (We can talk later about the fine line between finding independent workers and having to deal with fundraisers who take it too far and “go rogue”).
  • Perceptiveness: The ability to read people and situations can never be underestimated. The entire discovery process is devoted to discovering information about/inclination of a prospect, and fundraisers can expect at least half of those details to come from non-verbal cues (indicators of wealth and interests from home/office decor, comfortable body language, excitement and allusions to interesting projects, etc.). Fundraisers then must be both strong talkers as well as engaged listeners and observers. They should be able to come out of a meeting able to not only recap the conversation that transpired but also estimate the prospect’s reactions to the meeting and have a sense of what would be the most effective next step.
  • Versatility: Meetings with prospects can happen anywhere; the ideal setting is one where the prospect is at ease. Fundraisers must therefore be able to blend in at everything from sports events to hunting lodges to black tie events. This does not just apply to wardrobe. An fundraiser’s ability to adapt to the conversation topics and situations at hand help to create a bond with a prospect as well as demonstrate the value that your organization places on donors’ time and interests. While some content can be taught (understanding high level finance for example is usually vital for principal donors) the best fundraisers are those that can translate such knowledge readily towards enriching interesting conversations and scenarios.

The truth of the matter, however, is that innate ability and personality only gets fundraisers so far. The attributes above must be matched with a certain set of behaviors and management structures in order to create a top performer.  There are many people with all four attributes who never progress beyond being mediocre development officers. In the next posts we will talk about the behavior that sets the best fundraisers apart as well as the structures that encourage accomplishment.

 

 

Want to learn more? Part II (Five behaviors of top fundraisers) and Part III(Six best practices top development shops offer to set fundraisers up for success)  are now up!