A New Year’s Resolution List for Leaders to Consider Right Now


Something Worth Reading: Talent Retention and CASE’s “Hire Learning”

I know that talent management is a critical component of development success. This article  from CASE Currents highlights just why. Written by Peter Hayashida (VC for Advancement at UC Riverside) this essay describes the great challenge of turnover in the development field.  Hayashida makes many good points, including:

That leads me to an important point about retention, pay, and performance. In their book,First, Break All the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers. Specifically, they leave managers who don’t properly manage employee performance. Poor performers drag entire organizations down and make high achievers vulnerable to the lure of greener pastures. In development, we tend to promote people with strong technical abilities as fundraisers into managerial jobs but give them little training on the skills required to be successful leaders.

We’ve talked about  the gap between technical and managerial skills, and the challenges of finding good managers, and the difficulty of recruitment before. Peter Hayashida hits one key issue on the head here: effective management is one of the best tools we have to attract and keep valuable talent. In a market where fundraisers are being called about job opportunities multiple times a month, having managers who engage their employees, inspire good performance, and build rapport is going to make the difference in whether your fundraisers stay or go.


In about a month Bentz Whaley Flessner will be releasing the report of its findings from a national survey of frontline fundraisers and what drives their behavior and job engagement. Early glances at this data have consistently pointed to two things: weak management is the top reason listed by those with low job satisfaction, and leadership training is the top topic area where fundraisers want more professional development. We should be able to address both these areas by focusing on building up what it means to effectively manage fundraisers and development teams.


The article also features perspectives of three other experts on diversity, job hopping, and talent management investment. It is definitely worth a read.

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.


Something Worth Reading: The appeal of non-profit leadership in “Work-life demands intense for CEOs at nonprofits”

Those of us who have worked in the non-profit industry for a while can become used to the “when’s your serious career going to start?” sort of questions. But there’s more to this doubt than the lower salaries that come with working at a non-profit organization. Increasingly institutions demand more and more commitment, time, and energy from their staff and leadership. This article post touches on the effect of that pressure on CEOs in particular, but there are several salient points, in particular:

When you lead a nonprofit, where the end game is about making the community a better place to live, the workload can be immense and the emotions intense. It’s a big responsibility – and one that people in their 20s and 30s aren’t rushing to undertake. As the demand for leaders in nonprofits increases, young workers say they don’t want to make the work-life sacrifices required of nonprofit executives…

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about fundraisers and development officers, but fundraising talent in the form of leadership is also often in short supply. Even those who have great potential may be reluctant to take on new leadership responsibilities because the increased pressure and stress that accompanies a promotion are not sufficiently balanced out by job benefits and satisfaction.

Part of the struggle can come from the nature of non-profit leadership. Most non-profit institutions are smaller organizations and with every promotion comes a large jump in responsibility. Individuals therefore tend to shoulder a broader spectrum of responsibility for an organization’s success, and, if something does go wrong, staff don’t face a loss in “profit” – they are in a position to see and feel responsible for a gap in services provided or institutional impact.

We do have a silver lining, one that applies to most non-profit staff members in general – the great privilege of working to do good and using you passion, education, and time to change the world. The article acknowledges this as well. The question becomes then, how do we utilize team members’ passion and enthusiasm for an organization and it’s mission without burning stars out too early?

Something Worth Reading: NonProfit Times “Employee Referrals Gets Jobs Filled, Challenges Keep Them Going”

Having a good work culture can mean the world of difference in so many different facets of a development office. Take, for example, this article (begin on p 4)  from the Nonprofit times. It basically discusses the high value of employee referrals for new hires through highlighting a few members from the NPT top non-profits to work for list for 2013. It should be no surprise that those organization with strong management and communications have higher satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to employee referrals, which, in turn, leads to better hires and a stronger team. It’s a cycle that reinforces itself.

In working with non-profit educational institutions and healthcare centers a type of question that is regularly asked of constituents and donors is “would you recommend this school to your friends?” or “would you refer an acquaintance to this hospital?”. A prospect or donor’s response to that one question will reveal the most about how favorably they view the nonprofit and how engaged they really are. So, why don’t we ask those questions of our staff and fundraisers?


One other area of interest in this recap of the best non-profits to work for is this tidbit:

Training and Development proved the weakest category, across the board, for nonprofits.

Between program management, actual fundraising, keeping a team fully staffed and budgeted, and working with leadership and boards, it is easy to let staff training and development slip as a priority. A strong development office, however, is one that grows, not necessarily in overall staff size, but in capacity, knowledge, expertise, and creativity. While some of that growth can be accomplished on an individual level, the strongest programs know that adequately training new staff and developing the skill sets of existing staff can greatly facilitate real growth and see positive outcomes, both in development office performance as well as job satisfaction.

Something Worth Reading: Rethink hiring development talent through the article “Stop Using a Left Brain Process for a Right Brain Situation”

I stumbled over this article post today while perusing linkedin. It’s definitely something to get you thinking. Lou Adler, whose specialty is performance based hiring talks about reimagining how you think about recruiting and attracting talent. One of his most salient points is:

Most left-brained hiring processes are designed from left to right, weeding out the unqualified candidates and force-fitting those that remain into a pre-defined job. A right-brained, more creative process is designed from right to left. It’s purpose is to attract the best by emphasizing what the person will be DOING and could BECOME. In this way what the person GETs is not a filter to engage in a conversation, but part of a balanced negotiation. ….

The traditional default left-to-right hiring process begins by posting a skills-infested job description. This process will only work in a talent surplus situation where there is an excess supply of good people available. It also assumes that the best, fully-qualified people are willing to take lateral transfers. This alone limits the number of qualified and highly motivated people who apply. Worse, the process won’t work in a talent scarcity situation when the demand for talent outstrips the supply. In this case, an “attract the best” approach is essential. 

How many organizations have you seen realize they need a new principal gifts officer or high-level database manager and the first thing they do is post a job description with 20 bullets on proven experience and background desired of the candidate? Mr. Adler points out that this mechanism only will work when you have many candidates to choose from and simple need one to meet the base and to fill. In a talent scarcity situation, which describes the development field as the data has told us again and again, this process actually limits both the talent pool you reach as well as the qualifications and appeal of the position itself. The best performers need to be attracted to the position.

So, when it’s time to hire someone new (or even when looking at retaining and growing your existing talent), try thinking from the other side of Adler’s spectrum and ask yourself – what does this position offer the candidates beyond a salary? What opportunities do we provide that will make a top candidate choose us? Non-profits have an advantage in this area because their mission and vision tend to fulfill a social desire to do good, but they tend to fall behind in demonstrating that their open positions can impact someone’s personal and professional goals as well as their pocketbook.

Something Worth Reading: The Chronicle’s “Ask an Expert: New Fundraiser Lacks Experience, a Budget, and Organizational Support”

I stumbled over this blog post today at the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It’s worth reading – Barron Segar of the US Unicef fund offers advice to a newcomer to the field of fundraising who, for some reason, has been tasked with running a full fundraising initiative separate from the organization’s larger development officer. Mr. Segar offers good advice to the newcomer regarding an upcoming event, resources for small scale training, and beginning to manage prospects, but his best advice comes at the end: 

Join the fundraising department. Finally, you have to be part of development, rather than competing with that team. The optimum thing would be for the development director to bring you into that department. If you cannot approach the development director because that person is not your supervisor, then try talking to your program director. As a peer of the director of development, your program director may be able to talk about the challenges you face by operating in isolation.

This touches on something that pops up in many non-profit institution. Competing with colleagues over prospects, fundraising resources, and leadership attention works against the interests of all development programs and the institution in the long run. An immediate inefficiency in this sort of division can be found in the unnecessary redundancy in resources, database tracking, prospect management, and staff time.

A larger issue with competing development programs within one institution is rooted in the fact that donors do not look at DOs or leaders from different programs as independent actors;  donors and prospects view non-profit staff members first and foremost as institutional representatives – the department is secondary to that role regardless of whether a person works in development, alumni/constituent outreach, the front office, support staff for leadership, or program implementation.

This is not to say that those big organizations can not have multiple development programs (it makes sense, for example, for a medical school/hospital to have a separate program from a university’s regular development programs), but rather that development staffing programs should complement each other and have clear, open channels for coordinating efforts with prospects and utilization of top leadership.