(Fundraising) Staff Retention Made Easy.


Those of us who got to go to college have it pretty well off in the United States these days, with unemployment levels for graduates holding at less than 3%, which is to say full employment, or pretty close. Listening to the news and our presidential candidates, it certainly does not feel that way. But the opportunities are out there, and it is becoming a Seller’s market for talent across many industries, including the fundraising business. Salaries are climbing ever higher, with even early mid-level professionals commanding $60k+ or more with three years of experience. Good for candidates, challenging for organizations. Good people are hard to find, and harder to keep.

The excellent Penelope Burk, among many others have noted the high replacement cost for fundraising staff members who leave for more money or new opportunities. Relationships and expertise are lost, as well as the momentum, continuity and experience required for a well-oiled annual fund campaign or major gift program.

It hurts my heart when successful professionals are offered more salary or bigger responsibilities, and their current organization does nothing to try and retain them by matching salary offers or finding creative ways to keep them. It is money, relationships, and experience walking out the door every single time you let a staff member go. We have to slow this trend as employers. It is hurting us, badly.

Salary budgets are tight. I appreciate that. And fundraisers tend to be the highest paid administrative staff members already. There are limits to the salary we can offer and our entire non-profit industry has an almost universal aversion to merit based salary increases. What to do instead to retain our good people?

Almost any sort of professional development is a relatively inexpensive way to reward and retain staff. Seminars and specialized training is great, though it can be difficult as an adult to sit in a classroom all day. Bringing in consultants can feel like punishment (or at least more work) rather than reward. Tuition reimbursement in non-profit organizations is such a rare unicorn that it isn’t worth mentioning. Webinars are tragic. I haven’t ever sat all the way through one. Have you? Are you telling the truth?

My favorite? Send your team to a Conference. Every year. For each staff member. Protect this budget line as sacred in your budget. Why?

  • Everyone enjoys traveling, that sense of anticipation as the trip draws closer and thinking about the days out of the office and the fun of experiencing a new city. All your staff would like to attend a conference in the coming year, and would see it as a meaningful benefit to employment.
  • Conferences are fun. It is fun to travel, to meet other professionals and to check out a new place. I am on the road 40+ weeks this year and was still pumped to attend the Opera America conference in Montreal recently. I love getting a conference lanyard, hearing the guest speakers, meeting new folks, hitting the local restaurants, and partying it up (a little) with new friends. It is okay that your staff enjoy themselves professionally. That outcome is desirable, even.
  • Conferences are relatively inexpensive compared to bonus programs and replacing staff members. The average cost is something like $2,000. Tell me some better way to reward, invest in, and retain a successful fundraiser for that sort of money? You cannot.
  • Your staff will actually learn some new skills. My challenge to conference attendees is always, “Bring me back three new good ideas.” In fundraising one new good idea pays dividends pretty fast.

Here is what tends to happen with senior management. They get conferenced out. They’ve heard and learned enough and do not care to attend any longer. That’s okay, unless they begin to project that bias on to staff (and this is entirely too common). That’s not okay.

The best of the Bosses don’t budget themselves to attend a conference. A true leader would rather send a staff member than attend themselves. The best bosses I know (and have had) have always taken themselves off the list first in a budget pinch, protecting the opportunity for team members to learn, grow, experience, and come back refreshed and appreciative of the opportunity.

Here is the thing that happens. Over and Over. Professional development is seen too often as a luxury in non-profits, and it is the first thing to be axed at the hint of budgetary woe. This is the best example of short-term thinking I can imagine (other than being so damn cheap about technology).

How should a staff member be made to feel when informed that their professional development opportunity is gone for the year because of belt tightening? They are updating the old resume more often than not.

Cut your professional development and then you will have to replace your people. In a competitive job market. Where it will be expensive. And time consuming. Invest in your people instead. Some will leave you no matter what. Others will stay for years.

Send your people to conferences!

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
This entry was posted in Fundraising, Leadership, Philanthropy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to (Fundraising) Staff Retention Made Easy.

  1. Pingback: 2016. Travel Postcards From an Unsettled America. | artful fund raiser

  2. Pingback: How (not) to Hire a Development Director | artful fund raiser

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