Engaged Boards Can Slow Fundraiser Turnover

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Turnover among fundraising professionals isn’t a new problem but a recent survey suggests that major gift officers are even more prone to consistent turnover. However, the more that CEOs and board members are engaged in fundraising could deter turnover.

The findings come from “A National Study of Staffing Challenges in Nonprofit Fundraising,” released last week by DickersonBakker, a Raleigh, N.C.-based consultancy.

The 17-page report suggests that nonprofit leaders need to be “more creative and deliberate” about growing their talent pools by searching for cause-driven professionals with experience in related fields such as sales and marketing, not just fundraising.

“Giving is the lifeblood that nourishes the work of nonprofits in this country,” said Derric Bakker, president of DickersonBakker. “Quality fundraisers are vital to keeping these organizations healthy and growing.”

With demand for talented fundraisers outstripping supply, recruitment will “almost certainly only get worse as the economy improves” post-pandemic, cautioning that “good fundraisers are extremely hard to come by.”

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the nonprofit leaders surveyed said they experienced some level of staff turnover in their fundraising department within the last two to three years. On average, more than one in four (26%) fundraising professionals have been in their current roles for 18 months or less and nearly one in three (31%) indicated their tenure in their most previous position was less than 36 months.

Turnover is even more prevalent among major gift officers: 42% have been in their current role for 18 months or less and 61% have been in their current roles for fewer than three years. Only 22% of major gift officers have held their current roles for five years or more, compared to 42% of all others in fundraising roles.

On average, the fundraising professionals who responded to this survey have been in their current positions for almost five years (57 months). More than two in three (68%) held their most recent previous fundraising position for three years or longer.

The vast majority of nonprofits surveyed (84%) said they’re struggling to find qualified candidates, with almost half describing it as “extremely challenging or nearly impossible” to find the right fit.

Turnover was lowest amongst seasoned fund development professionals with some management responsibilities. The vast majority (86%) of nonprofit executives reported they are very satisfied (40%) or fairly satisfied (46%) with the performance of their fundraising team and are not seeking a change in personnel.

Survey results showed one category of fundraising staff who change jobs at a much higher rate than most others. They make up approximately a quarter of the workforce and tend to be younger, less experienced, and in field-level fundraising positions. This relatively small category of people may be skewing perceptions of the entire industry, according to the report.

The top reason that fundraisers change jobs was related to career or personal development (31%), including making more money (9%) and/or moving up to a position with more responsibility or at a larger nonprofit (11%).

Approximately one in four (27%) cited issues related to lack of skills or performance in the job as the primary reason for departure. The single largest subset of this category was “unable to meet fundraising goals” (10%).

Dissatisfaction with the organization was expressed as the reason for leaving among one in five surveyed (19%), or because the organization didn’t provide enough support (8%) or they didn’t feel valued by the organization (9%).

For about one in 10 respondents (11%), the primary reason for leaving was due to interpersonal challenges relating with a supervisor or other team members. That could very well mean the CEO, too, as the survey data shows that the more the CEO and board members are involved in fundraising efforts, the greater the likelihood of success. Fewer than half of the fundraising professionals surveyed reported that their board and CEO were “even reasonably involved” in fundraising. Only about one in eight “strongly affirmed” their board and executive leadership were “actively involved in raising organizational support.”

Fundraisers surveyed gave their CEOs high marks for speaking at events and gatherings, but lower grades for engaging with major donors and actually asking them for donations. Only one-third of CEOs surveyed said their board members are moderately or actively involved in fundraising. “It is clear from these findings that board involvement in fundraising — or lack thereof — is a significant and consistent cause of concern among fundraisers and nonprofit leaders alike,” according to the report’s authors.

Survey results included responses from 739 nonprofit leaders, including 328 CEOs, 257 professional fundraising managers, and 154 frontline professional fundraisers, from 10 nonprofit fields. The online survey was conducted in January and February, with findings assessed at the 95% confidence level and a margin of error of 3.5%.

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