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.
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?