I have worked in nonprofit and education my entire career and I have noticed that fundraising professionals are spending a limited amount of time with organizations, between 18 months to 2.5 years, and how this occupational trend has started to get some real attention. It may have something to do with the amount of choices available, just look at any nonprofit job site and you will find an abundance of fundraising positions in high demand with good pay and benefits, but I really don’t see this as being the reason for the short stay. So why are development personnel leaving so frequently and often unhappy with the organization and their work performance? Here are five reasons I have found in my research for why fundraisers are so dissatisfied with their leadership and responsibilities:
- Organizational leadership (Board & ED/CEO) does not really understand fundraising strategy
- Leadership does not participate in the development process (uncomfortable asking for money)
- Goals are unreasonable and expectations are usually given concerning “immediate needs”
- Responsibilities are delegated to a few, but only one is accountable for meeting outcomes
- Leadership shows unwillingness to new ideas or any deviation of an old fundraising model
Now let’s detail some ways in which nonprofit leadership can help create an environment where success and “happiness” are felt throughout the organization based on experimentation from former Harvard professor Shawn Achor and his 10 years of research studying happiness through positive psychology. Here are five ways leaders can positively influence their teams to be successful and more importantly be happy in their work:
- Recruit Positive People: Too much emphasis is placed on number of years worked in a profession and scholastic intelligence than on three more important factors for predicting success; belief that your behavior matters, management of your stress and the attitude/view of your circumstances, and your social support network (law of associations).
- Be Positive Yourself: This will create a ripple effort amongst your team members and flow throughout the company.
- Recognizing Others: Just by raising the frequency of your recognition and encouragement you can make a profound impact on the happiness and success of your team. By starting every morning with a positive email to someone in your organization or team will create a noticeable difference in attitudes even during stressful situations.
- Prioritizing Happiness: Usually means the amount of time spent with family and friends, our support system, and interacting with people face to face. When we become stressed we divest our time from these groups and become more isolated which feeds into our stress. When things get tough as leaders we need to encourage more face to face, know when to get the team together for a time out, and find ways to interject happiness into the work day.
- Praise the Process: Praise should not be just given based solely on an outcome, but in fundraising this is usually the case. Leaders must praise the process leading up to an outcome (especially if they know a tremendous amount of work and effort is being done). By praising the process leaders are validating a job well done and not an outcome that may not be avoidable.
“Every time we have a success we merely change or move the goal post of what success looks like and our brain never reaches the happiness we were looking for.” – Shawn Achor
I think fundraisers see the problem with the quote above in how it relates to our world. Fundraising by its nature places much of its praise on successful outcomes and almost never on the process, yet so much work goes into writing grants, major gift solicitations, and special events. Mr. Achor is saying that organizations can have greater success and reach operational goals if they simply validate and praise their employees throughout the process and maintain a positive outlook themselves.
The “happiness movement” is nothing new, over the last few of years many successful corporations have been giving out their secrets for maintaining a happy work environment. Companies like Google, Apple, Patagonia and most recently Zappos have all shared how they prioritize their employees happiness and how this has made for successful customer service experiences and reaching revenue goals. The next logical step for nonprofit organizations and higher education is to adopt this philosophy to retain and develop successful and happy fundraising professionals.
Sounds like a good idea to me, what do you think?
Book Recommendations: CEO & Founder of Good Think Inc. Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness, A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose