Worsening "Talent Crisis" in Fundraising: What should non-profits be doing?

Talent crisis in fundraising? This warning comes in a new report--the Critical Fundraising (USA) Report published by the international fundraising think tank, Rogare, and launched at the AFP ICON in San Antonio this past spring.

In one of the report's essays, Oklahoma-based senior fundraising, James Green, points out that the average tenure of early career fundraisers is just under 2.5 years per job, the same as it was 20 years ago.

What is the problem?

Early departure of fundraising officers is a real concern for any non-profit. It means that talented development officers who have been recruited are leaving their place of employment long before the value of their relationships with donors is being realized. These people are making little impact on the revenues needed. In addition, departures create other issues that impact the fundraising enterprise:

1. As a development officer begins his/her first year, no matter how experienced or talented, there is a "start-up" cost as they become acclimated to the organization and begin to develop donor and prospect relationships.

2. When a development officer leaves, co-workers must pick up the slack, generating a sense of resentment over time, particularly when replacement talent is not recruited in a timely way.

3. The relationships that department development officers have built with the program directors of the organization are disrupted, programs lose momentum, and frustration becomes the watchword for all involved.

4. The cost of hiring a replacement is very high. It costs development supervisors and staff significantly in time devoted throughout the recruitment process as well as during training. Often the organization itself imposes a series of checks and balances--a position description must be re-approved by the human resources department, ensuring that it is accurate, etc. Budgets must be reviewed once again by senior officials. All of this takes time. This provides another hurdle before the job is posted and recruitment can even begin.

5. When a development officer leaves, there can be a significant lag before someone replaces him/her--more opportunity lost for development revenues. If the development officer was experienced, this can actually represent millions of dollars lost. This can have a major impact on annual revenues.

6. Donors also feel a blow between themselves and the organization--after all, they got accustomed to working with one development officer, now they must begin again. As a consequence there is often erosion to the donor base, no matter how powerful the mission. Restarting momentum is challenging.

What can an organization do?

This is such an important issue that genuine focus needs to be placed on the recruitment process from start to finish by key members of the organization.

1. Expectations of the development staff member must be outlined in terms that spell what all levels of the organization are imagining that individual to produce--and done in as detailed a way as possible: how they expect them to proceed, who they will report to and how, what are the goals for the year, etc. It is surprising that in some cases the last item--goals for the year--are not communicated or even discussed during the year.

2. It is most helpful to the employee if the organization's culture and the department's culture can be explained accurately--then the staff member can be further poised for success.

3. Quality of the supervisor needs to be examined. Bottom line: Is this person experienced and truly inspirational? Most people leave an organization not because of the work but because of the supervisor. Has the supervisor developed a framework for success for each employee?

4. Are the resources necessary to do the job available--are there adequate funds for entertaining donors and prospects?

5. Is the administrative area of the organization functioning efficiently so that the employee can move forward with the work? Are critical support services like prospect research efforts in place and effective?

6. Is the atmosphere open enough within the culture that the employee can speak his/her mind diplomatically? Does the supervisor listen, can the employee participate and become involved, deriving satisfaction from this aspect of his/her work life?

7. If the organization is large enough and the employee has matrix reporting responsibilities, do the other supervisors have any knowledge of development and what constitutes their own responsibilities--are they able to evaluate key steps that must be taken for success? Are they actually involved? Are they supportive?

Other issues involved include ensuring adequate educational resources, effective teamwork in the development department, effective mentorship programs, annual rewards and recognition, clear advancement opportunities, active on-boarding processes. These all contribute to retention of effective development officers.

In Summary

There is a real challenge in retaining solid development officers. Clearly turnover is part of the development culture and steps must be taken by the non-profit organizations to reduce it. What a supervisor does to modulate the impact of development staff departures can have a remarkable benefit on the organization--it is well worth spending the time ensuring that the system in place proves to make an impact in reducing departures.

RED HOT TIP: Find a talented and trusted Human Resources Talent Recruiter who knows the qualities and qualifications of a solid development officer. This will begin the process correctly from the first moment and chances for a good recruitment will be elevated significantly. Supervisors must work with the recruiter closely from start to finish, ensuring an increasing shared understanding of what constitutes effective and powerful development staff members.

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