Something tells me that our profession, the fundraiser, will never be getting the gold watch after 50 years of service.
There are varying statistics, but the average tenure of a fundraiser is recognized to be 18 to 36 months. As a matter of fact, that tenure has been shorter as time goes on. What can one do about it? Well, either they can fight it (and lose) or accept it and manage expectations.
One of the fundraising gurus of our time, Penelope Burk maintains that ” demand for good fundraisers is so high that it is vastly outstripping the supply. Most good fundraisers are on the job just three to six months before they get recruited for a new role.”
Many sites the main reason for the fundraiser’s departure as salary-based. I agree, but only to an extent. Many of the fundraisers are in the profession to advance philanthropy (literally derived from the Greek “love of humanity“). When that love is gone, so are the fundraisers.
I see this trend mirroring the state of marriage, where the divorce rate is greater than 50%. When the couples fall out of love, they move on as well.
Fundraisers aren’t married to their jobs, but it takes a special individual to be a fundraiser — someone willing to invest more than 100% effort. When that love of the job is gone, often times the fundraiser is going to look for another ‘partner’ — one that may appreciate them more, one that may have the excitement of a new love or one that better aligns with their personal values and beliefs.
Often times though, the wrong person is hired for the position in the first place. I have seen many organizations “plug a hole” with a nice warm body. I don’t believe that this was the intention of the hiring body, rather, many times the hiring body doesn’t know what to look for in a fundraiser (remember that professional fundraising is a relatively new phenomena and many people “fall into” fundraising rather than choose it as a vocation). I, personally, would rather a position go vacant than hire the wrong person for the sake of filling the position. A good manager will invest a lot of time and effort into guiding the new hire for success. If deep down, you know that it isn’t the best hire, you will be wasting your time. (And time, by the way, is the only commodity that you cannot make more of — once it’s gone, it’s gone).
I would surmise that the tenure of a fundraiser is relatively short because of incongruent expectations. Many times a board will hire a professional fundraiser and believe that by hiring the professional, they have abdicated their personal fiduciary responsibility to fundraise (silly people!). Or, sometimes, the sense is that the new hire will be an instant rainmaker. Many times, a new hire will have to spend a considerable amount of time learning the lay of the land (what has been done in the past, corporate culture, unique value proposition) and often times the incumbent will have to undo some of the work of their predecessor in order to succeed. So, I would humbly suggest that there are some monetary and non-monetary mutually agreed-upon expectations that need to be set.