There are some questions that simply can’t be answered with words. Action is the only answer

On so many levels a key — perhaps the key — question is how do we slow or stop the hemorrhaging of talented fundraisers — particularly women — at a time of desperate and growing need.

Make no mistake. Fundraising has an immense retention problem not related to donors but to fundraisers themselves. This of course is not news. Nearly three years ago The Agitator reported on the release of the report UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, which unleashed a tsunami of alarm when it revealed that:

  • Half of the development directors said they expect to leave their current jobs in two years or less — the rate is even higher for smaller organizations;
  • 40% of the development directors indicated they aren’t committed to careers in development;
  • 53% of CEOs reported they couldn’t find enough qualified candidates … 33% were dissatisfied or lukewarm about the performance of their development directors … and 24% said their development directors had no experience or are novices at ”current and prospective donor research”.

Not only does this vicious cycle threaten financing of the sector, there’s been pathetically little attention  — let alone action — devoted to raising hell and fixing the problem.

Life work balanceObviously, there are no simple solutions to this problem. But there is a single question that I keep asking myself. “Have we failed to take the effective action we should be taking because, like so many other sectors, we’ve given short shrift to women who are the majority of our profession?

I believe we have. And I believe we’ve not only shorted women in the matter of equal pay, but we seem to be callously ignorant of the painful choices the nonprofit sector is forcing women to make.

If we care about the future there are a bunch of questions we had better be asking, answering and taking action on.

No one has raised these more clearly than long-time Agitator reader, fundraiser, and blogger Mary Cahalane.

In her post titled Your work or a life: a painful choice no one should have to make  — that should sensitize, awaken and drive into action even the troglodytes among us — Mary makes these essential points and raises equally essential questions. Among them:

  • In the United States, recent polls found that 70 percent of American workers consider their workplace a significant source of stress, whereas 51 percent report job stress reduces their productivity.
  • Public health officials are calling workplace stress an epidemic. More people are experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion.
  • In our culture, the people who succeed are healthy, young and free from family obligations. The rest of us [overwhelmingly ‘women’ ] struggle along as best we can – juggling work and life and often dropping the ball.
  • Traditional roles die hard. More often than not, women are still the chief caregivers. That puts additional stress on them
  • Because our culture neither honors nor makes room for ‘caregiving’ nor is it valued for the work it truly is.

And then Mary sets forth a disturbing and entirely legitimate bill of particulars indicting the nonprofit sector over the work-life issue:

  • “Productivity. Is our all-work, all-the-time culture really working?”
  • “If our nonprofit organizations work to create a better, more egalitarian world, why do we see this mindset [of ignoring the value and importance of caregiving] there? Shouldn’t we value caregiving as an extension of our missions?”
  • Female CEOs in the nonprofit sector make less than men at every budget level. “What does that mean in a sector like ours where women are the majority?”
  • Women are smart and capable — but stressed more by the competing demands of home and work.
  • “Inequality. The New York Times says girls achieve more in school, make up more than half the college population, and enter the workforce with higher salaries. Yet the top positions in the corporate world are still held by men.”
  • “Guilt. For our sector, work isn’t just an exchange of labor for money. People depend on us!”
  • The percentage of female chief executives declined slightly.
  • Development directors also showed a pay gap. In organizations with budgets of $500,000 to $1 million, median earnings for men were 13 percent higher than women’s.
  • “Not so good.”

And then Mary delivers the payoff in terms of a series of terrific questions we all need to be asking ourselves and each other:

  • “Are we losing experienced, skilled people because their time and flexibility are more important than pay?
  • “Is working so much even productive? I’ve seen several related stories lately about shorter work days. It seems likely that a 6 hour day can be as productive — or more — than an 8 hour day.  That fits my experience.”
  • “How many nonprofit employers would hesitate to pay an experienced person fairly for fewer hours?
  • “When people depend on your fundraising success, how do you leave it at the office?
  • “When everyone is overwhelmed and working late, how do you leave without feeling awful?”

According to Mary here’s how the work-life problem currently manifests itself in our world:

  • “When staff is always overwhelmed with work, either there isn’t enough staff or the staff isn’t well-trained. There’s always more work than there are people-hours.
  • “But the public has learned to look at personnel costs as ‘overhead’. Extra, wasteful expenses to be kept to a minimum so donors would know their gifts were focused only on the mission. We know now this is all wrong. And even the big charity watchdog groups are revising their rating systems. But the myth remains.
  • “Boards look at the expense side of the budget and worry. But they could be looking at the income side — if they were willing to invest in fundraising.
  • “Executive directors cut hours or personnel to make budgets work. Instead, they could make the case for increased income and impact.
  • “And nonprofit leaders model bad behavior themselves. They take it as a badge of honor when they’re described as ‘married to their work’ instead of modeling a balanced life.
  • “We’re doing meaningful work. We accept we’ll likely be paid less than a position in the for-profit sector.”

“But does it mean we have to prioritize our work above our life?”

Mary has plenty of suggestions which you’ll find listed in her post. She also urges us all to weigh in and add to the list of questions – and suggested actions. And then send ‘em to Mary via email.

There’s no better time than now to make your heart, voice and action known.


P.S. Thanks to loyal Agitator reader Pam Grow calling attention to Mary’s post.



This article was posted in: Fundraising philosophy/profession, Nonprofit management, Research.
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