It wasn’t as if putting rice in boiling water was hard.
But I’ll admit I like the little single-serve cups – no clean up, 60-second satisfaction.
Your fundraising program doesn’t work that way.
Sorry for the bad news. But if you want a strong program, quick fixes won’t do it.
What does it take?
Building relationships, hard work, trial and error – and they all take time.
Last fall I wrote about the struggles many fundraising professionals face in their jobs.
That post hit a lot of nerves. I heard from so many people – anguished, angry, frustrated and sad.
They told me things like:
My organization lost two full-time employees recently and decided not to replace those positions. Instead the ED opted to redistribute the work to remaining employees.
I recently left a fundraising job because in trying to fulfil the mission to help people have better lives, I was jeopardizing my own well-being.
Why are two highly-educated and smart women dreaming about low-wage employment? Because at least these jobs have achievable expectations, clear start and end times, and time away from work.
My job description keeps growing. Rather than finding the right people for the needed positions, we’ve kept folks who aren’t pulling their weight and keep adding things to my job. It seems every time I have a success, I’m given more responsibility.
Bottom line? Turnover in our sector is high.
High enough to affect organizations’ ability to fundraise and perform their missions.
While repeated turnover and long vacancies are costly in any position, not having consistent leadership of a fundraising program almost guarantees that an organization will not achieve consistent results… Cultivating these relationships with a broad base of donors takes multiple years and constant attention—difficult if not impossible with premature departures and long vacancies in the development role.
What about you?
How many fundraising staff have you replaced in the last 3 years?
A study shows that staff turnover increased to 19% in 2014. I’m betting you know what yours is.
But do you know how much transitions set your donor relationships back?
Fundraising staff are not there to simply perform tasks. They’re there to build relationships.
And yes, everyone in the organization – not just your executive director, not just the development director, not even just the development staff – should be building relationships for the organization.
And while those relationships center on the organization and its mission, it’s still personal.
Every time a trusted connection leaves your organization, you lose something important.
Here’s a good analogy.
I had lunch recently with a wise colleague who underlined this for me. He told me:
Fundraising is like farming.
It’s hard, day to day work. And you might not see the results of your labor for a long time.
It could take ten years or longer to build a solid program.
You can’t get there without planning.
You can’t get there without an investment in your fundraising program.
Most importantly, you can’t get there without investing in your people.
Loyal donors and dependable income don’t happen overnight.
So why do we prioritize today at the expense of tomorrow?
Yes, I know. You need money today in order to get to tomorrow.
But the answer isn’t microwave rice thinking. The answer is planning.
Plan to hire well. Then plan to invest in ongoing learning and staff development. Staff are the most important asset an organization has.
Organizations that allow staff to learn and grow (and maybe even have a life) do better.
What’s really important.
Look, we measure our results in dollars – by campaign, month, or year over year. (Are you measuring donor retention and lifetime value?)
What about staff retention and the impact of turnover on donor relationships?
What we chose to measure is what we decide is important.
Plant now. Choose good seed. Care for the soil. Remove the weeds. (And cultivate patience while you’re at it!)
Grow your program with an eye on the long-term.
Questions for you:
- Have you seen the impact of long-term staff on a program?
- Have you seen what happens when turnover becomes a way of life at an organization?
Share your experience in the comments, please!
And if you like the post, please share!
Some friends have recently posted good articles about leadership and staffing. Suggested reading for you: