For many charities the senior fundraiser role has become a revolving door. And according to the recent CompassPoint report UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, the trend shows no sign of dissipating.
CompassPoint revealed that half of Development Directors anticipate leaving their position within two years or less. And the study is not alone in its findings. In a separate report, Penelope Burke found the average time fundraisers stay at a job is 16 months.
The high cost of turnover
Why should this matter to you? If your organization has high turnover, your budget has a metaphorical hole leaking very real dollars.
Direct costs of replacing a fundraiser include things like accrued vacation and advertising the position. Indirect costs can be much more significant. They include the time spent on the hiring process, support and training from colleagues, and – most important but often forgot – diminished productivity. An experienced fundraiser requires 3-6 months until he or she is working at full capacity. Less experienced fundraisers in front-line, non-management positions can take 12 months before they reach the productivity of their predecessor.
These expenses add up quickly. Burke has pegged the direct and indirect costs of replacing fundraising staff at a whopping $127,650. To mitigate these costs, the task facing your organization is two-fold: 1) to improve staff retention and 2) to prepare for the departure of fundraising staff.
Decentralize the role
Make fundraising an organization-wide priority rather than the exclusive responsibility of advancement staff. The Underdeveloped study suggests instilling a culture of philanthropy, where the majority of staff act as ambassadors for the organization: “Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving.”
William Sturtevant, a senior fundraiser at the University of Illinois, explains that successful charities distinguish themselves by having their leaders – including the Executive Director and Board of Directors – involved in raising money.
If this doesn’t sound like your organization, you’re not alone. The Underdeveloped study showed that few charities have an organization-wide commitment to fundraising. Only 12% of Directors of Development report having an organizational culture of philanthropy.
Nurture internal talent
A fundraising position should not be a stepping stone to an external position. Make a commitment to hire from within so your fundraisers can envision their career path in the organization. Not only will this increase your staff retention – decreasing the cost of turnover – but it will inspire increased commitment to the cause.
It can be difficult to train for top development positions. After all, there’s a lot to learn about your organization! Senior fundraisers should help potential successors develop the necessary skills and contacts to succeed in the top job. This will shorten the transition period after the departure of a senior fundraiser.
The full package
Skilled fundraisers are in high demand. They are often recruited three to six months after starting a new position. If the recruiter offers an increased salary, it is tempting for fundraisers to jump ship.
Charities often feel like they cannot offer the salaries required to retain their highly successful fundraisers. However, offering a promotion may be more cost effective in the long run, given the estimated cost of $128,000 to replace staff.
If your organization isn’t flush with cash, use other creative means to retain good fundraisers. Flexible hours, generous vacation, and the ability to work from home are all significant perks that determine whether staff stay or go. A dedicated budget for professional development opportunities will also contribute to higher retention. Also, consider carefully whether or not to offer time-limited contracts. These encourage fundraisers to look for other opportunities as the end of their contract approaches, which may lead to dwindling productivity rather than a committed focus on your organization.