Uh Oh. Your Fundraising Staff Are Going to Quit.

Hold on to your butts nonprofits – because the “Great Resignation” of 2021 seems to be just the tip of the iceberg, and I don’t think our sector is ready, willing or able to cope.


In a recent Harris Poll, nearly 25% of the workforce plans on quitting their job this year.


For a nonprofit sector that is still smaller than before the pandemic began, organizations of all sizes are in for a rude awaking unless we proactively and aggressively change the way we pay and treat our employees.


I’ve seen a dramatic increase in folks leaving their nonprofit positions – especially in the fundraising realm.


Not only are individuals leaving their organizations, but are leaving the industry all together. Our experienced, fantastic, and most enthusiastic champions for best practices in solicitation are fed up and walking out the door. And our most institutionally knowledgeable folks are exiting too, leaving the history of the nonprofit be relearned from newbies with little to no documentation.


I’m terribly worried about this turning into the Dark Ages of the fundraising sector in 2022.


So where is the biggest pain point? I’ve got a few.


1. Balance & Burnout


One of the driving factors for folks leaving the nonprofit fundraising industry is the consistent unreasonable expectations put on development leaders by their board and executive team. Almost immediately upon being hired, fundraisers are expected to raise money at an exponential rate. The lack of runway given to these potential rock stars is so short, that they never really get the opportunity to show how amazing their relationship building skills are.


Instead, they chase short term money, sacrifice long term funding stability, and burn candles at both ends trying to achieve a damn near unachievable budget goals.


The balance of their work and life becomes tipped towards the job, and without encouragement, small wins to celebrate, or the ability to feel caught up, the once glass-nearly-over-flowing-member of your team becomes jaded with the organization.


Burnout is real folks. And simply throwing pizza parties, ain’t gonna fix it.


Speaking of pizza parties to encourage motivation at your nonprofit:


2. Paychecks & PTO


Just. Pay. Your. People. More.


Gone are the days when folks work at a nonprofit organization because they feel fulfilled by doing good. When worry about paying bills takes a front seat to your day-to-day life, you can’t put that positive energy that once filled your bucket.


You cannot get away with minimum salary for maximum effort.


And yes, I realize this is a tough conversation to have with your board and leadership team. However, if you aren’t proactive on how to address the dramatic gap in pay to the for profit realm, be prepared to lose a good chunk of your most talented folks to careers that have a path to financial success.


Our work in the nonprofit sector is valuable and needed. The talent here is priceless. Those you serve need them.


So pay them what they are worth.


Don’t simply send a text to your employees simply asking if they need anything.


Send them a larger check every two weeks, eliminate the archaic PTO policy you wrote 20 years ago that forces parents to chose whether they take care of their kids or go to work, and be helpful and full of grace when they ask for a deserved raise.


Speaking of kids and grace:


3. Flexibility & Family


Now that there is hope for moving into an Endemic, you might suggest that going back to normal office hours and some bizarre need to have folks sit behind a desk. Weak managers need this visual to justify their position as a glorified babysitter.


However, you’re talking about the most resilient of any sector in the workforce. We’ve seen a number of shutdowns, stay at home orders, canceled events, and yet, we still rocked our fundraising and relationship building.


If you’re more concerned about an attendance sheet than you are about a results only work environment, you better say goodbye to the most talented and forward visioned employees.


They desire the flexibility to do the work and then shut off. This pandemic has re-shuffled the priorities of individuals who value family and time away from the grind more than the business hustle that comes from the heart. And along with better pay, the need to have autonomy from the office as it is critical for the mental wellness of the nonprofit & fundraising rock star.


“But Patrick – there’s no money! Who’s gonna help? Donors?”


Um, hell yes they can.


They can start by giving to your greatest need, and not suggesting it be used for some restricted micro program that isn’t on your current priority list.


They can start by not associating the funding of overhead with distain and look at it as critical to funding the mission.


They can be part of the solution which in turn makes them heroes to those you serve.


The clouds on the horizon don’t have to be scary gang.


Get proactive.


Get with the financial times.


And keep the amazing folks who make this world a better place in a (well-funded and well paid!) position to do so.


You got this!


-Patrick