We know turnover is high for development professionals. What’s more concerning is how much we know and how nothing is being done about it.
The philanthropic workforce is fighting hard to provide positive and fundamental change for its local and global communities, but for some that means toxic environments, terrible leaders and fleeing every two years to find better.
The moment I knew something had to radically change was through my involvement with Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Triangle Chapter. At one of our programs, I spoke with someone who identified as a part-time employee in an executive leadership role. Part time in classification and pay only. Full time plus in hours. No benefits. The optimist in me would like to think this is the exception and not the rule. The reality is, and I know, this is more and more becoming the rule. Think about the strong statement this makes to your donors.
Philanthropy is more accessible than ever. Donors can give on social media, at the grocery store and by those formally soliciting them (like us). The demands for people’s time and money is extremely high.
If nonprofits are going to survive competition, financial hardship, donor fatigue, automation and the weight of public trust, we must set the bar higher. Donors are going to find their way to a better experience, and they’re going to get it in the organizations that put their people first.
Donors are feeling the burden of internal organizational challenges. To truly put donors first and provide an excellent experience for them, we need to stick around. And we need a work environment conducive to retaining us for five to 10+ years. Instead of running away, how about we demand better for ourselves, thus providing better for our donors.
My advice for leaders
Assess – If you’re experiencing high turnover, take a step back and assess your needs and what you’re asking of your employees. Have an open conversation with your former employees, your leaders, your current board members and even trusted donors to listen to their feedback. Work toward providing long-term resources to secure and keep your perfect match. Meet with peer organizations and colleagues to learn about solutions to their internal challenges.
Invest – This goes both ways. Take care of yourself and be open to growing your strengths and talents to become the leader you want to be. Pay people what they deserve from the get go. Conduct annual performance evaluations and give raises every year. Encourage retention and reward hard work by advancing within. Also, don’t underestimate undiscovered talent. Really get to know the philanthropic community and those who stand out. Maybe they can’t provide that track record of whatever may be required in the job description, but give good people your time and attention and take a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Advocate – Frequently open up the conversation for your staff to tell you what they want and need from you. Listen and deliver. If you believe in and trust your people – which you should, you hired them – go up to bat for them. Sure, conflict is tough and uncomfortable and you have a job you want to keep too. But you’re their leader. Your advocacy to your supervisors and board is what sets you apart from the pack.
Be flexible – Provide professional development opportunities. Encourage community engagement outside of the work environment. Let people work from home. There will be times your people work 55 hours a week and 35 the next. Let them! Don’t be the type of manager who watches the clock.
Have fun – The philanthropic community is full of hardworking, passionate, dedicated people. They’ve gone out there and celebrated your mission and are building relationships to secure the financial stability of your organization. They’re good people. Be good to them. Doing good for others should be a fun and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Today I’m fortunate to work at a place that puts people first. My happiness radiates and translates across the board because of the love and support I have from my leaders and teammates. It was a long journey, but I can finally say I have found my perfect match.
Treat yourselves and each other how your donors want to be treated. When you’re happy, they’re happy. When you feel good, they feel good. Put your donors first by putting yourself first. Once you do that, everything else will seemingly fall in to place.