In the marketplace for fundraiser talent, we know that demand currently outstrips supply. Consequently, advancement and development leaders often say that one of the most significant challenges they face is the hiring and retention of fundraising talent. While the economic forces of supply and demand are putting upward pressure on salaries, a common misconception about fundraiser recruitment and retention is that it’s “all about the money.” That’s a management and leadership cop-out.
Human resource professionals and hiring managers often ask me if there are certain qualities to look for in prospective new hires that are likely to make them extraordinarily successful in their roles. While there are no absolutes, I have found that there are a few characteristics that if carefully screened for can yield excellent new-hire results.
Of course, it helps to have a rigorous recruitment process (including resume reviews and initial phone screenings) that develops a number of strong, talented, and competent candidates. After that process, multiple face-to-face interviews of a small pool of candidates by a diverse hiring committee that is prepared to ask penetrating questions about character (not competence) will get to the heart of the matter.
I will point out that nearly all of the qualities outlined in the Fundraising Leadership Assessment can be learned or acquired over time with practice. They are not innate. If you are recruiting someone to your team, I strongly recommend you consider evaluating candidates using the qualities outlined in the assessment, in addition to screening for any other specialized knowledge or skills that may be required.
Once hired, it’s important to keep in mind that fundraisers are an ambitious group (bordering on hyper-achieving). Nothing is more frustrating for an ambitious fundraiser than discovering he or she is out of personal or career growth runway. In today’s environment, it is incumbent upon the senior leaders on nonprofit teams to have a process that reviews all employees in the organization for development opportunities.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that fundraising can be stressful and thankless work. The demands to raise more money are never-ending, and while the donors are thanked for their generosity, fundraisers are frequently overlooked. Creating an environment of appreciation, recognition, and gratitude – not only for donors but also for the fundraisers who work with them – goes a very long way on the path of retention. A culture of appreciation helps folks feel good about the work they are doing, but it does not address stress and the work/life imbalance that often accompanies the fundraising profession. Dealing with this factor is among the top reasons advancement/development leaders work with an external professional coach.
Another way leaders can reduce stress and overwhelm on their teams is to commit to a culture of play, improvisation, and laughter. In honoring this commitment, individuals look to maximize energy (not manage time), while getting sufficient rest and renewal.
Finally, at the most basic level, fundraisers want to know that they can be successful in their roles and they want to work with leadership that has integrity and is trustworthy. All too often there is confusion, competing priorities, lack of vision, and poor alignment and communication. That is a ready-made formula for turnover. In this regard, I recommend that nonprofit leaders inspire confidence with a clear vision, a workable plan, and a belief in employees’ competence to achieve it.
David Langiulli is an executive coach and trainer that helps nonprofit leaders flourish and thrive.