When a talented fundraiser resigns, a large dollar-shaped void looms in their place. It’s disruptive for the team and the skills are time consuming and expensive to recruit. Relationships between the organisation and its donors are destabilised and other staff must scramble to repair the connection.

Unfortunate but all too common

Sadly, while the situation can be catastrophic, it’s not uncommon. Research from the US has found that that the average tenure of a fundraiser is just over 16 months and anecdote suggests that Australia is close behind.

This is troubling, especially considering it takes a year for new staff to experience a full business cycle and establish important relationships. When major gifts can have a gestation period of 18-24 months, staff turnover at these critical times is not just inconvenient — it’s a significant risk.

To make things worse, the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies has found that fundraisers who resign are not leaving the not-for-profit sector – or even fundraising.  They are leaving individual organisations.
So why is this chain of events so common?

There are two principal reasons:

  • There’s a mismatch between what fundraisers are expected to contribute and what the organisation offers them in return
  • The organisation has not created the conditions for fundraising success.

So what can you do to retain your talented rainmakers for longer than the 16-month average? Here are our two major tips.

Look After Your Staff

The pact that you have with your employees needs to be more than just a contract, it should be a way of (working) life. This covenant is called an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and while we have discussed its importance as a recruitment strategy, it’s also vital for keeping your employees.

In your EVP, you need to be explicit about:

  1. Your mission: It’s crucial to talk about why you exist and who you serve. Your artistic vision and values need to be clearly expressed.
  2. Connection to strategy: Each employee is integral to executing your strategic plan. Everyone in your organisation needs to how strategy is formulated and the role they have to play.
  3. Remuneration, reward and component parts: Pay needs to be benchmarked. It has to be competitive, particularly in a candidate’s market like fundraising.
  4. Career development: Every staff member needs to know that their professional potential will be fulfilled. Career progression through training, mentoring or secondment needs to be outlined in this document.
  5. Work environment: What’s your office like? What facilities and amenities do you provide? What are the expected office hours and what flexibility do you offer in return for out-of-hours service at performances, exhibitions or events? All of this will need to be put into writing.
  6. Culture: Future employees need to know the values, attitudes and behaviours that are encouraged and the ones that are unacceptable. Importantly – is a fundraising mindset a part of that culture? Articulating how your company creates the culture of fundraising success is a powerful exercise and a big differentiator in arts organisations. 

Create the conditions for fundraising success

Achieving success in fundraising is a much bigger challenge than going to market and buying a skill set and track record.

Here are the four commitments serious organisations make to fundraising success and supporting their staff at the coalface.

  1. Resourcing: Leading organisations invest in organisational capacity. They ensure fundraisers have access to the best technology, systems and tools to attract support and provide an impeccable donor experience.
  2. Leadership of Board & CEO: Successful organisations utilise development staff, the CEO and Board in donor cultivation and solicitation. Fundraising is seen as a leadership activity and each member of the leadership group can articulate a compelling case for support. If there remains any doubt about the positive correlation between board engagement and fundraising success, check out the Fundraising & Leadership Report.
  3. Organisational culture: Savvy organisations cultivate and incentivise a fundraising mindset among all employees.  Philanthropy is understood and valued across the organisation because everyone knows that more money equals ‘more mission’ and great artistic outcomes.
  4. A strategic partner: Ambitious organisations involve the Fundraiser in Chief at the outset of every major project. In fact, fundraisers are present at the concept stage of new undertakings and the capital raising strategy commences then and there.

We aren’t making this up. These four conditions of fundraising success were identified in the 2013 US study Underdeveloped, which was designed to understand the worrying turnover in senior development roles.

And finally…

To retain your fundraising staff and ensure that they succeed you need to demonstrate a commitment to providing the leadership, resources and culture that will complement their efforts.  High achieving staff have a low tolerance for failure and will hop jobs until they find an organisation with fundraising in its DNA.

If you’d like to talk about ways you can attract and retain the best fundraisers please get in touch.

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