PMA Consulting, LLC

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[Innovation Series] Keep the Talent You Have

watergrassAs April comes to a close and the fiscal year end is in sight, Executive Directors and Development Directors of nonprofit organizations have their nose down to end the year strong.  However, smart managers are likely looking around the office and asking themselves if the fundraising team they’ve put together will remain intact for the coming year.

Anymore, it isn’t just about identifying talent, but keeping it. According to Penelope Burke, president of Cygnus Applied Research, the average time spent by fundraisers in positions with nonprofits is just 16 months.  Factor in four months of training on the front end and three months of disengagement toward the end of the tenure as the individual job hunts, that leaves just nine months of high-level productivity on average.  It is a wonder that nonprofits are able to maintain donor relationships at all given its broken system of employee retention.

What causes the longtime fundraiser to stay put?  This was a question that PMA brought into its innovation research during 2012.  PMA polled nearly 100 Development Directors, Executive Directors and Board Chairs.  Here is what we found.

  • 70% of Development Directors noted that their organization was not adequately staffed to achieve current organizational goals, with more than 50% of individuals polled noting that staff had either contracted or remained the same during the economic downturn;
  • Salary remained an important motivator for keeping talent, but a surprising number of respondents noted benefits as being the reason an employee stayed or was forced to seek another position. This is a sign of the times as two-income households adjust with layoffs in other sectors;
  • More than 80% of respondents noted that professional development opportunities are provided to all employees and not just to senior management, a positive trend that reflects an understanding of the importance of continued investment in resident talent.

Acknowledging the costs associated with addressing these findings, the challenge for many organizations is keeping talented professionals while simultaneously shrinking the overall operating budget.  Patton McDowell recently spoke to this topic at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ International Conference in San Diego earlier this month.  He shared the following low-cost tips for creating a workplace where employees want to stay:

  • 90-Day Planning: Help your fundraiser develop quarterly objectives, and provide a method of hardwiring metric-based goal setting with qualitative goals.  Make time to sit down with the fundraiser and acknowledge success, rewarding with public recognition.
  • Cross-train:  One of the biggest reasons fundraisers leave organizations, particularly small shops, is a feeling that there is nowhere to go professionally.  Develop succession processes, and demonstrate a commitment to your talent by engaging in discussion of long-term professional goals.  The first step may be acknowledging that a rock star fundraiser is not going to be with your nonprofit forever, but instead demonstrating to that individual a commitment to positioning for success in exchange for a 3-4 year commitment.
  • Encourage Networking: Regardless of position or level, external connections are another key to job satisfaction.  Managers who fear their employees will be enticed away if they engage in networking are doomed to lose that staff anyway.  Demonstrate to your staff a desire to elevate them and they will love you for it.