Why Frontline Fundraisers Are Leaving Your Organization
If you’re a frontline fundraiser who wants to resign or has already quit, your nonprofit organization does not care about you.
If it did, you either wouldn’t be thinking of leaving right now, or it would have retained you instead of losing you to greener pastures. Unfortunately, those greener pastures are an illusion. Because, on average, you are leaving for another position every 15 to 18 months in search of an even greener, more lush pasture.
It’s not your fault. You have been let down by a toxic culture that has invaded the majority of nonprofits. Richard and I don’t believe it’s been done purposely, however. Because most nonprofits have failed to recognize donors and their staff as part of their mission, those donors and staff are treated as a commodity at best and just plain expendable at worst.
What’s happening with nonprofits is that the mission (the work that is trying to change the world and meet a need) becomes the sole focus of leadership. This ethos is passed down to management and the toxicity begins. On the surface, focusing on the need seems to be the noblest thing a nonprofit can do, right? I mean, this is what the whole thing is about.
The problem is that as nonprofits grow up and then forget that it’s the staff and donors that make the execution of the mission possible. One of the root causes for this is that nonprofits tend to undervalue good management.
Now, here we are in the middle of the Great Resignation, which also can be called the “fundraiser exodus.” Frontline fundraisers are leaving in droves for better work, leaving nonprofit causes they love because they can no longer take the toxicity of their current workplace.
The gift of this pandemic is that the power has shifted from the organization to its employees. Fundraisers had the time to evaluate what you need, want and desire in the workplace (just like all of us) and are tired of putting up with what they had been putting up with.
However, in reviewing every survey out there on why frontline fundraisers are leaving, there is one constant. The majority of fundraisers are leaving their jobs because they do not like their manager, or they have a general dislike of how they were managed.
Frontline fundraisers are leaving bad managers. Richard and I have believed from the very beginning of our work in major gifts, that one of the main reasons mid-level, major and planned giving programs never fully reach their potential is because of a lack of management of the fundraising team.
Nonprofits have done a notoriously bad job of managing staff and they are now beginning to recognize it and do something about it. At their core, Richard and I believe that nonprofits don’t value good management. I mean, if the nonprofit doesn’t value people because they’re focused almost exclusively on the need, management is just looked upon as an overhead cost. For a frontline fundraiser this is what it looks like:
The best major gift officer of the organization is hired as the director of major gifts. This is problematic because typically the best major gift officer is motivated by getting results through their own efforts (This is a good thing). This type of person is not motivated by getting results through others (the definition of management). They don’t have a desire to develop people. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just not how they’re wired, but they’re put into that situation by leadership because they were the best performing major gift officer.
And that leads to managers of frontline fundraisers being mostly evaluated on their own portfolio. What is the result of this? Lack of management of the other fundraisers. Richard and I see this every day. We don’t blame the manager here. They are only focusing on what they’re being evaluated on. Leadership doesn’t value management. So, the manager has a full caseload (remember we have to keep overhead costs low) and then they are expected to manage the team, but they can’t manage the team because they have a full portfolio and they really aren’t motivated to truly manage. Sound familiar?
This means the manager doesn’t really manage the team. You, the frontline fundraiser, are out on your own. You have no structure, you have only top-down goals thrust upon you, no one is developing (or celebrating) you or helping you stay focused or accountable, and you grow weary very quickly and you leave.
This cycle of poor leadership and management is constantly happening. The result is:
- Unhappy, unfulfilled, frontline fundraisers who leave every 15 to 18 months.
- Donors who aren’t giving to their full potential (meaning, most never get out of the transactional stage of giving). They never build rapport and trust with the organization as it takes time to build a relationship with a donor. This will cost organizations hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in revenue over time.
- Mid-level, major, and planned giving programs that are either stagnate or don’t grow to their full potential, leaving net revenue on the table. This results in less revenue for programs that are trying to change the world.
- Nonprofits that spend more on having to hire and train replacement staff, ironically, because the nonprofit doesn’t invest in or truly appreciate the role of good management.
Now, I know this looks pretty bleak. Not all nonprofits are acting in this manner. Some do value management, and, as I mentioned many are just now waking up to the idea that they need good management.
This is the other gift of the pandemic: Nonprofits that are losing good people are finally realizing that they need to take care of their people and provide an environment where they can thrive and find joy and fulfillment in their work.
Remember, unless the nonprofit sectors start to value managers and the role they play with developing and nurturing staff, we will always be in a vicious cycle of turnover, which never allows you to fully develop relationships with donors.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.