Life Expectancy of Your Staff

February 22, 2019

The world has changed a lot over the last few decades (duh). The notion of somebody coming to work for an organization, putting in their 30 years of service, getting the gold watch and retiring happily ever after is now almost unheard of.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a study was conducted that was one of the biggest national surveys of its kind, gathered data from more than 2,700 development directors and charity heads who work at organizations of different sizes and missions. Among the key findings:

• Half of the chief fundraisers plan to leave their jobs within two years or less. Forty percent are thinking about leaving fundraising entirely.

• More than half of the executive directors reported that they can’t find well-qualified people to run their fundraising staff.

• At many nonprofits, the position of development director has been vacant for months—or even years.

The issue basically boiled down to culture — a culture of not being able to thrive. Many organizations lack a culture of philanthropy, which means that development directors don’t have the conditions they need to succeed.

The Fundraising Authority also speaks of this challenge quite succinctly and narrows the problem down to two issues, as they see it:

  1. Non-profits are ashamed of having to resort to fundraising. “This is one reason why so many non-profit executive directors love grants. They don’t seem like fundraising.  They more like writing a report, and if you get a good grade, you get the money. So many folks at non-profits would rather do anything then look someone in the eye and ask them for a gift.” The article goes even further, stating “When non-profits are ashamed of having to fundraise to support their missions, development offices become miserable places to work. Who wants to work for an organization that is ashamed of what you do? Who would choose, day in and day out, to be out in public asking people to part with their hard-earned dollars to support the mission of a non-profit that would rather they didn’t have to hire you at all?”
  2. Non-profits refuse to pay staff what they are worth. Name another profession that brings in ‘sales’ in the millions annually and has salaries of less than $50,000. It doesn’t make any sense (or cents). The article says “And if you’re not paying your folks 100% of what they would make in the corporate world, how about 80%? Or 70%? Or even half? At most non-profits, the true number is more like 35-45%.” This is shameful. So many charities (and businesses for that matter) don’t realize that it will cost you much more to replace the position that your fundraiser is occupying than it will be to give them a livable wage. Think of the lost time, retraining, etc. that will have to be invested. Have you calculated what that may be worth?

Sometimes turnover is due to burnout. I guess that can happen in any profession. There are some professions that have sabbaticals to combat that burnout — perhaps fundraising could look at that practice as well?

All to say, staff are one of your most valuable assets — they create and foster relationships and (usually) have the organization’s best interest at heart by being great goodwill ambassadors. The commitment should go both ways.

I would end with a cautionary note about managing expectations. Statistics prove the life expectancy of fundraisers (approximately 30 months). It is doubtful that you will be able to change that to 300 months, but perhaps you can change it to 50 months.

L’chaim folks