Commenting on Tom’s Ingredients of Retention Success post, Mazarine Treyz of Wildwoman Fundraising poses the intriguing question of whether retention of donors may possibly be related to an organization’s ability to retain its professional fundraisers.

Mazarine asks

” In other words, have we ever stopped to think, ‘Huh, how long do our fundraising professionals stay? Could we train them more, help them feel more joy in their jobs, more valued as employees, so they in turn retain our donors better by staying in their jobs longer?”

“Look, I am a fundraising empowerment champion. Because I believe (and Penelope Burk backs me up on this) that when we treat our fundraising professionals well, and help them stay, then we retain more donors.

“If you look at job postings these days, it’s all at-will and the jobs of 4 people are wrapped up into one person. So we have to change how we structure jobs, and how we hire people.

“if you look at nonprofits and how long they typically keep fundraising professionals, the stats are abysmal. It’s 18-24 months, in general. So we have to change how we retain people.”

Although The Agitator has no empirical proof on this point, I suspect Mazarine is absolutely correct. A skilled and experienced fundraiser with a donor-centric focus is far more likely to demand her/his organization provide continuity of message, great donor service, proper recognition and the other essential donor experiences.

Which brings me to a MAJOR, MAJOR PROBLEM in our sector — the pitifully small number of truly experienced fundraising and communications professionals in our sector.

In the past decade the sheer number of nonprofits has grown by 42%. Yet, the number of fundraisers with suitable skill and experience has failed to keep pace.

At a time when meeting the sector’s needs requires a vast talent pool, we are faced with little more than a talent puddle.

This week Production Solutions and Fundraising Success Magazine released their 2013 State of Employment for Nonprofit Organizations.

The study’s findings should be taken both as an alarm and as a call to action. Of the 250 organizations surveyed:

  •  79.9 % face budget constraints that prevent them from hiring the experienced talent needed to complete their fundraising team;
  •  54% simply can’t find qualified candidates;
  •  47.9% can’t offer competitive salaries.

Most shocking of all — 66.5% offer no formal fundraising training programs.

Fortunately, 40% of the respondents have begun thinking outside the box — breaking down silos, restructuring, outsourcing — in an effort to solve their staffing problems. [Download the Infographic here.]

  • 62.6% are now outsourcing work to outside contractors;
  • 70% offer flexible time solutions;
  • 50% offer telecommuting opportunities.

At best these are temporary, band-aid ‘fixes’, not solutions.

One potential and lasting solution begins with admitting that there are too many organizations chasing too little talent. The path out of this dilemma lies in letting weak groups wither and die (which they will) while, at the same time, demanding that major funders and leaders in the nonprofit sector focus appropriate, high priority attention and vastly more resources on fundraising capacity building.

Far too many CEOs and boards are willing to pay whatever it takes to attract a whiz-bang program officer or a slick branding agency, while ignoring the essential requirement of a highly skilled, well-paid fundraising engine room.

A mindset like that largely ignores the need to grow, reward and hold on to fundraising talent. As a result, CEOs and Boards will continue getting exactly what they deserve — a future doomed to failure.

In the words John Gardner, Tom’s and my old boss and the founder of Common Cause:

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.


P.S. If you want to learn more about fundraisers, bosses and boards I urge you to read Simone Joyaux’s trenchant summary of current research in the field … plus The Agitator’s January, 2013 take on this subject, titled Before You Quit, Rate Your CEO.








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