How can nonprofits grow sustainable revenue by retaining fundraising professionals?

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Increasingly, leaders of nonprofit organizations manage and drive their missions forward in a more complex and less certain world. Factors including lingering COVID-19 disruptions and widening socioeconomic disparities continue to challenge nonprofits’ budgets, resulting in revenue concerns that keep CEOs, executive directors and other nonprofit leaders up at night. Fundraisers and the revenue they generate make mission fulfillment possible (while also helping leaders get more restful sleep!). Society depends on nonprofits, nonprofits require sustainable revenue, sustainable revenue comes in large part from fundraising professionals, and fundraising professionals need more support and appreciation. The compromising of these interconnected pieces has led fundraiser retention to become a growing issue for missions.

According to Independent Sector, increased competition among nonprofits and a perceived increase in the scarcity of donors and available funding make it difficult to raise money consistently. The connection between fundraisers’ longevity at an institution to revenue is undeniable; those with four to seven years at the same organization raised 50% more, and those with eight years raised 83% more than their newly hired colleagues. Prioritizing these professionals’ development, wellness and growth increases job satisfaction; as a result, they stay with the organization and do their best work.

Unfortunately, fewer are sticking it out with turnover rates increasing across the sector. In one study, 51% of fundraisers planned to quit their current jobs and 75% considered quitting in a given year. Turnover reduces current and future revenue and erodes institutional knowledge while diminishing a donor’s connection to the mission. Reasons for leaving are many, with the most common factors being poor compensation and benefits, work and life balance, career advancement, professional development and workplace culture.

Investing in fundraisers so they can in turn ask others to invest in an organization seems reasonable, yet few comprehensively take care of their people. Only 54% of organizations implement recognition programs and 35% of fundraisers cited dissatisfaction or disengagement with their current organizational culture. Unsurprisingly, Glennon reminds us that revenue officers are overworked, overtaxed, and overstressed, resulting in 50% of people experiencing burnout. When work-life is out of balance, burnout commonly arises; 90% of emerging leaders cited burnout as a reason they would leave the sector.

Fundraiser talent investment interventions

Retaining valuable fundraisers requires managers to lead by example through implementation of the following strategies. Recommendations help maximize skills and knowledge, incentivize high performance through financial incentives or rewards and address workload and stress issues, to create fundraiser sustainability.

Pay and compensation:

  • Increase base salaries
  • Add monetary bonus structure
  • Add a retirement saving match

Benefits:

  • Create a sabbatical program
  • Add remote work flexibility
  • Add tuition benefits

Professional development:

  • Professional association memberships
  • Conferences, retreats, and workshops
  • Professional coaching support
  • Employee development stipend

Career advancement:

  • Internal career paths
  • Prioritize internal promotions
  • Fundraiser led career planning
  • Internal mentoring program

Organizational culture:

  • Hire a culture coach
  • Employee-led culture working group
  • Survey employee needs and opinions
  • Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Working Group
  • Start a recognition committee

Personal wellness sustainability:

  • Set reasonable goals and clear expectations
  • Promote a 40-hour workweek
  • Paternity/maternity leave
  • Add ergonomic workstations
  • Mental health insurance coverage

Every strategy may not be practical or feasible for some organizations. In combination, multiple approaches will produce tangible benefits to individuals and the mission.

Concluding thoughts

Given fundraisers’ impact on revenue and budget challenges, nonprofits need to make ambitious and possibly difficult decisions focusing on their crucial human resources. Now is the time to invest in fundraising professionals. Without a long-term view, burnout and turnover will continue at untenable levels. Prioritizing people through talent investment honors them as an essential asset to the mission. Supporting more stability and wellness for the individual will create superior performance and results for the organization. Fundraisers are not asking, they are showing leaders the importance of building equitable salaries, reinforcing mental and physical wellness and providing learning and career paths. Ensuring fundraisers are well-supported and high-performing will enable nonprofits to address society’s most pressing challenges for the long haul.

Christopher Cordes is a 2021 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. He earned his undergraduate degree from Arizona State University in 2004. As a development manager for the Pat Tillman Foundation (PTF) in Tempe, he executes fundraising programs with corporations and individuals, including PTF’s signature event Pat’s Run. He enjoys adventuring with his amazing wife, their rambunctious twin boys, and their spunky daughter. A native and fifth-generation Arizonan, he enjoys tennis, golf, fly-fishing and exploring the scenic outdoors. Go Devils!

Learn more by enrolling in the Fundraising and Sustainable Financial Management or Optimizing Human Resource Strategies in Nonprofits certificate programs from the ASU Lodestar Center’s Nonprofit Management Institute.

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