Are You in Fundraising for the Long Haul? Studies Say Maybe Not
Typically, we all work at 100 mph in our jobs. At certain times of year, we hardly have time to think about what we do and how we do it. In many cases, we react instead of act. We know what our jobs entail and, through muscle memory, plow through it. For many of us, the fundraising profession is our life and career choice.
From time to time, individuals in the for-profit world examine our profession in order to determine if they should jump into the nonprofit arena. I am very glad research is done periodically. It is important to stop and evaluate the profession as a whole. One way to assess our profession is to continually survey a sample of fundraising professionals.
In “A New Study: Taking the Pulse of the Fundraising Profession,” Lynn Sygiel, editor of Indianapolis-based Charitable Advisors, noted that Dr. Gene Tempel, founder of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, and Sarah Nathan, co-director and special projects associate at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, replicated a survey that had been done years earlier by Tempel and Margaret Duronio. It was a study of the fundraising profession.
The original study was published in a 1997 book, “Fundraisers: Their Careers, Stories, Concerns and Accomplishments.” The pair distributed a survey to 35,000 members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Council for Advancement and Support Education, the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy and the Lilly Family School, and received 1,900 completed surveys.
Highlights from their preliminary data analysis included the following:
- Fundraiser tenure has increased, with professionals staying longer in their jobs.
- Fundraisers who have gained more than 10 years of experience tend to stay longer at their next jobs—up to five or six years.
- Honesty and integrity are the characteristics of a good fundraiser.
- The average age when people enter fundraising today is 30, and the median age is 27.
The data showed that, today, half of fundraisers are 27 or younger. In comparison, the average age of entry into the profession was 33.5 years for women and 33 for men in 1997, and most learned fundraising on the job.
I must be on the end of this bell curve, as I started in this field at age 23. I had to learn on the job for many years. The literature in the field was limited. I was blessed to be taught by barrier breakers such as Hank Rosso, who brought the center on philanthropy and fundraising school idea to Indiana University.
But, why is survey data of the field important?
“UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising,” a 2013 survey by Jeanne Bell and Marla Cornelius, addressed the widespread concern in the nonprofit sector about premature turnover of development directors, lengthy vacancies in the role, and the seemingly thin pool of qualified candidates from which organizations can choose. CompassPoint surveyed 2,700 executive directors and development directors to seek answers to key questions about various fundraising challenges in the field.
Key findings included:
- Instability in the development director role. Organizations are struggling with high turnover and long vacancies in the position.
- An inadequate and uneven talent pool. Organizations are not finding enough qualified candidates for development director positions.
- Lacking the conditions for fundraising success. Organizations are not building the systems needed for development directors and development success.
- Breaking the cycle. The survey makes urgent calls for action in the nonprofit sector and provides ways to address challenges outlined in the report.
It always is important to note that surveys tell the real story from the minds of the professionals. This is not book theory but real practice. There always will be challenges in this profession. If you have experienced this field for at least one year, you will understand how hard it actually is in practice. Only certain types of individuals have the mind, personality, soul and focus to thrive in this field for a career.
If possible, follow key pools of practitioners and survey them over a long period of time. With long-term survey research results, we will be better able to identify, market, recruit, orient, train and sustain pools of qualified fundraising professionals.
No one ever said this profession would be easy. If you can master this profession, the rewards are priceless.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.