4 Ways to Nurture Donor Relationships Through Staff Transitions
During my career in the nonprofit profession, I have worked at several nonprofit institutions. In each case upon my arrival, I received information from prior staff on donor relationships and donor strategy. At the time, there were no adequate data retention systems, so when I became staff leader, I directed each key staff member to create a brief on each donor relationship and provide direction for their replacement to hit the ground running with donor strategies.
In one scenario, before leaving the role of vice president of a hospital system, I spent time with my replacement going over key names and providing thoughts on future directions with donors. Those donors eventually gave several significant gifts to my replacement through my cultivation efforts. However, in my experience, this strategic handoff is not the norm. Can you imagine the tremendous loss of time, talent and treasure, not to mention years of goodwill, when nonprofits drop the ball with donor relationships?
I learned that staff transitions are an inevitable part of growth and change at a luncheon, titled “Nurturing Donor Relationships Through Staff Transitions,” for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Indiana Chapter (AFP-IC). I attended this event last month at The Salvation Army Indiana Divisional Headquarters in Indianapolis.
Kristie Johnson, vice president of institutional advancement at Martin University; Carmella Hise, assistant vice president for development at Ball State University; and Rochelle Jerry, director of development for the Indianapolis Arts Council, participated in the session. Here are four takeaways from their insights.
1. Accept That Staff Transition Happens
All three speakers noted their experience with staff turnover and its effect on donor relationships. Johnson has worked to improve the awareness of the process at her organization while Hise has implemented success planning as part of the culture. To prepare for it, Hise has accepted that both staff and donor changes will happen.
2. Communicate During Staff Transitions
The trio agreed that communication and transparency were the keys to get through staff transitions. Tell each donor they are valued via a clear communication strategy to avoid losing momentum after a staffer resigns, Hise said.
One way to do that, Johnson shared, is to have multiple staff members engage with donors, always providing thanks and impact updates. Another way to accomplish the communication aspect, Jerry noted, is to implement technology that manages donor information for the organization.
3. Properly Onboard a New Staff Member
Understand it takes time for a new development hire to get up to speed, Jerry said. To assist in onboarding, provide information, resources and connections, but make sure the fundraiser grasps their donor profiles and strategies quickly.
Assigning a mentor could be a great tactic to ensure new fundraisers are properly trained, Hise added. One way to help them grow and develop, could be to take them on easy donor visits to build confidence. After all, the development team owns the donors, not an individual staff member.
Over time, Hise advised, measure the transition’s success with metrics, like retention and increased giving.
4. Enhance the Donor Experience During Staff Transitions
It’s important to give your new hires space to learn, but also have parameters to encourage them to grow.
Johnson suggested having the nonprofit’s leader introduce staff to donors while Hise, whose organization has a 90-day trial training program, suggests giving new fundraisers time to grow relationships by encouraging them to learn the nonprofit’s culture and how donors fit into that culture.
The speakers also provided tips, like staying away from a lone wolf model and giving equal credit for gifts, as well as making sure multiple staff members know all the donors in the global portfolio. Your goal is to identify, cultivate, solicit and steward every donor. This can only be accomplished through a team effort. Be prepared for staff transitions, as this is the nature of the profession.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
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Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy. He has maintained a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation for three decades.