Employee Departures, Transition and Donor Retention
We work in a world of transition. Each of us has gone through a number of job changes in our nonprofit careers. If we have served in a management role, we have also seen a number of employee transitions. A fact of life in our profession is that employees will come and go.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that half of the 2,700 development directors and charity heads surveyed for a research study plan to leave their jobs within two years or less, with 40 percent considering leaving fundraising altogether. Can you imagine the attitudes these leaders are giving to their employees? Poor attitudes lead to poor work environments and tremendous turnover throughout the nonprofit profession.
While I care deeply about the problem of employee stability in the nonprofit sector, I also care about how relationships and information threads between development officers and donors are dramatically altered or eliminated when the employee resigns. In my personal experience, I have either seen or participated in a number of poor transitions of donor relationships and information when I replaced a fellow development professional.
Here are some things I saw when I started a new development position:
- No transition of information given to me from the person I replaced.
- Person I replaced gave me a booklet with events and no names and said "good luck."
- New position and no donor portfolio information system in place.
- No information shared and had to create a new system.
- No information shared and had to piece together information.
- Information in a state of disarray and had to recreate systems.
- Had to create new systems and processes.
In my career, I never I had the transitional meeting where someone I replaced sat down with me and gave me a list of significant donors they had cultivated or solicited, as a hand-off for me to continue the process. If I only had the strategy for the next step. In many cases, donors were lost or forgotten in the transition process. What a waste of time and countless financial resources for the institution. In my opinion, there are at least two major ways to stop this transitional loss of donor information.
One way to stop this transitional loss of donor information is to develop a strong, detailed transition plan with the resigning employee. Have the employee create a booklet of information that includes key donor relationships, their current status and strategies for these donors going forward. It is important that you know what the employee knows before he or she departs. Conduct significant knowledge transfer with the employee, and do not leave any stone unturned.
In an article for The Balance, Susan Heathfield, encouraged employees to resign with professionalism and leave a positive final impression. Her suggestions for departing employees included creating an employment-ending checklist, offering to train successors, sharing key information with the replacement, participating in an exit interview and saying goodbye with professionalism and class. All good ideas.
I truly wish our profession could solve the constant turnover and transition issues we face. Many development offices and development positions have to constantly start, stop and start again with precious donors. If we cannot solve these turnover issues, we must at least focus on employee resignations and seek ways to improve the donor information/relationship transition process.
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.