The Circle Game:
Between the anecdotal evidence and recent industry surveys, the now widely lamented trend is that fundraisers tend to stay with an organization for only 2 years. The first year is usually spent getting to know the organization and “cleaning up” after their predecessor, which is more undoing and redoing than just doing. The second year is high-pressure and driven by numbers, somehow ends with all-around dissatisfaction and the process starts all over again.
They’re calling it the Fundraiser’s Revolving Door.
It’s not always as bad as that, but the lesson here is still important: if you’re going to hire a fundraiser, make sure you find someone who is dedicated to the cause, and then treat them right, too. Staff turnover is detrimental to your organization as it is, so staff retention in your development department is absolutely vital for successful fundraising. Nothing sounds more exhausting or self-defeating than having to rebuild your team and change the way you manage campaigns every two years.
- Give your fundraisers the right tools with professional training/mentorship.
- Understand that their role is diverse, not just “person who gets money”. They’re a senior staff member, chief complaint receiver, community “pulse taker” and champion for your cause, at the very least
- Fundraising is everyone’s responsibility, not just a task to be dumped on the professional.
- Consider supplementing your development department by hiring a consultant who might have expertise in an area that your DD doesn’t, such as direct mail, event planning, capital campaigns, working with foundations, research, strategic planning, etc…
- Changing the culture of philanthropy in your community doesn’t happen overnight but it pays off big time. Part of successful fundraising is building a community of consistent, loyal supporters who stick with you for the long haul.
When it comes to the real world, we can’t always be full-funding-full-throttle. Success isn’t anchored to the bottom line, and if it’s just the numerical amount of money you measure by then you will be unsuccessful every time. Your organization may never have all the money it wants, so expecting a new fundraiser to be the spark that fires up your development is unrealistic. Sure, they can “shake things up”, but shaking the can doesn’t mean you’ll get more out of it.
You need to invest and invest well. Finding the right person for the job means identifying an individual who understands your cause from the get-go. Any fundraiser can do the math, but not everyone can put their hearts into it the way you do. Even if you find a fundraiser on a part-time or consulting basis, if they are passionate about your cause then they’ll follow through for the mission, not just for the money.
So many organizations struggle with the negative connotations of asking for contributions. Your supporters don’t have to give money all the time, but when they do, you want them to do so happily. When the notion of giving is synonymous with fundraising, within your organization and in your community, then your development team can count on these funding sources. Steady funding from a (com)passionate community is far more exciting and more useful than hoping for big bucks from one mythical source. A great fundraiser – the fundraiser you want to keep – is the one who can help you build that community.
Train your fundraisers – a craftsman is only as good as his tools – and prepare them for the job you need done, not the theoretical job on paper. Maybe you need a Development Officer who also can blog, or manage events, or talk to the press, or even travel to rough places. “Fundraiser” is really just the first part of their role – the skills they bring to the table. How those skills are applied and to what is your responsibility. When you find the right person for the job, keep them by making them a part of your organization’s core. Thank them, acknowledge their value to your cause and don’t measure their success or failure based on pure numbers. If you want to play the long game, put a team together that will stay together.
There are several ways to staff your development department, generally along the lines of finding fundraisers outside your organization and keep them “on retainer”, hiring full-time employees, or delegating fundraising tasks to your current employees. If you are about to hire, are looking to replace an outgoing fundraiser, or looking for an outside fundraiser, we can help point you in the right direction.