For a long time, fundraiser turnover has perplexed the nonprofit sector. Organizations consider themselves lucky to keep development professionals for one to two years.

This constant turnover hurts all around. It’s expensive to hire and train new staff, and worse than that, it compromises the precious commodity of trust that donors place in the nonprofit. No donor likes constantly being introduced to a stream of new staff who have yet to learn their stories, personalities, and likes and dislikes.

How can nonprofits retain their fundraising staff?

The first solution is obvious but increasingly difficult in the current resource-challenged environment—the compensation package. Almost like in pro sports, the rich keep on getting richer. Bigger and more financially sound organizations can afford to lure away the most talented men and women.

But money doesn’t tell the whole story. Nonprofits can also respond to turnover by setting up development staff for success and fulfillment. Let’s dig deeper into what this really means.

Management and staff agree on mutually acceptable and realistic expectations.

I don’t subscribe to the rainmaker concept. No single individual can come in and multiply gift income by him or herself. There are so many other huge determinants, such as the image and awareness of the organization and its donor pipeline. Realistic expectations must go beyond gift dollars raised and address cultivation activities and and the establishment of systems and best practices. It takes time and commitment to sustained relationship-building to propel prospects through the gifting continuum.

Leadership must play a hands-on role in the discovery, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of donor prospects.

This includes both the CEO and board members, which is especially crucial for winning major gift donors. Donors for high-end gifts typically expect and deserve leadership to be personally engaged with them.

Nonprofits need to commit to fundraising training, not just for practitioners but for the CEO and board members.

This emphasizes that board members can contribute mightily to resource development success without ever asking for a gift. They can play essential roles in breaking the ice and introducing prospective donors from their personal, professional, and civic networks to the mission of the nonprofit. When the time is right for solicitation, the organization’s development director or another nonprofit leader can step in to make the ask.

Nonprofits need to invest in their development operations. 

Infrastructure must be in place or built—covering donor databases that are kept up-to-date, along with gift processing and acknowledgment that functions like clockwork. No fundraiser can maintain donor loyalty without these essential support systems.

Nonprofit leadership—both management and the board—must be receptive to being “managed up.”

Just as leaders heed the wisdom of lawyers, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), and other experts, they need to heed the wisdom of professionals who enjoy the benefit of special training and mindset characterized by not just accepting but embracing opportunities for asking for gifts. The fundraiser knows best how to identify, solicit, and steward gifts, so philanthropy is not just a transaction but a lifelong association that grows closer and closer over time.

The implementation and blending of the five components described above will culminate in a genuine culture of philanthropy. This perfectly sets the stage for offering the joy of giving in which everyone in the nonprofit proudly tells its story and recognizes the necessity of donating gifts of time and money commensurate to their ability.

The times demand that nonprofits organize their operations in the most effective and efficient ways possible. At the top of the list is addressing the critical challenges of both donor and fundraiser retention, which should be viewed going hand-in-hand.

About the Author(s)

Jim Eskin (he/him) Founder, Eskin Fundraising Training

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