Starting Off Right: Recruiting, Training and Retaining Fundraising Staff Part I

A 2013 study conducted by Compass Point Non-profit Services found that one in four Executive Directors were so unhappy with their Development Director that the last person to hold the job was fired; and more than half say they can’t find qualified people to fill the role. The interesting part of the study is that Development Directors felt the same way. A jaw-dropping fifty percent planned to leave their job in the next year and forty percent wanted to leave fundraising entirely.  In fact, according to Penelope Burk, the average length of stay for development directors is down to 16 months.  Surveys show that the primary reasons they leave is for better paying jobs with more advancement.


So what can be done to address these problems?  How can you avoid fundraiser turnover in your organization?


Start Strong with Clearly Defined Goals and Honesty

I have found that nonprofit boards, CEOs and fundraising staff frequently have  very different ideas about what the goals of fundraising should be. Long-term success in fundraising is reliant on strong relationships, which take time to cultivate; but board members and CEOs want immediate results that impact their budget shortfalls right away. To meet the demand, fundraisers wind up taking shortcuts to raise big dollars, which leads to burn-out. If the goals were set differently in the first place, development staff would stay longer.  So it follows that retaining the best possible fundraising candidates actually starts before the candidate is even hired.  Begin by developing clear expectations about the type of work the person will be doing and the outcomes they are expected to achieve then make sure this appears in the job announcement. 


Be honest about goals from the start but keep up the honesty when sharing about your nonprofit. During the interview, share honest information about what is happening at the nonprofit.  Give prospective employees the opportunity to consider the challenges of the job and commit to them before being hired, and it will help improve retention long-term.