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
When an organization is in financial trouble the staff look to its Board of Directors for assistance. While the Board usually looks to the staff to work harder at raising funds through special events and grant writing. There always seems to be a genuine lack of understanding between the folks providing the direct service and the group making the financial and policy decisions.
Most small to mid-sized nonprofits have 15 to 25 Board members and all have their own idea for how the organization should be operated. Worst of all many Board members have their own personal reasons for being involved with an organization (yes, I said this out loud), ranging from an increased profile in the community to being financially convenient for their own business. This is just the nature of the nonprofit beast and for an executive director it can be a tight rope to walk on when the funding debate rears its ugly head.
At the end of the day an engaged and mission driven Board should be a nonprofit’s best resource. I will always agree a Board should be the financial machine that keeps the doors open, however there are other areas of expertise needed for a Board to be a productive and effective.
Boards need members with influence and a civic platform to be well-balanced. Money alone does not make a strong Board of Directors. No organization has ever been judged by the populations it serves because of whom a building was named after. All Boards need folks with specific expertise like law, technology, and accounting. No matter the background, a true belief in the organization’s mission and the understanding of some fundraising role is extremely vital concerning the sustainability of the organization.
For executive directors “some” Board members frequently let them know (behind closed doors) that they are not big donors, however they bring “contacts” to the table. Without a well-developed strategy to engage these potential supporters, the relationship never takes shape. Not all Board members need to be high figure donors for an organization to be successful, however I do feel a Board should have 100% of its members giving at some level. Whether the check is personal or corporate does not matter, it’s communicating these fundraising expectations that must be part of a proactive Board culture.
Nonprofits need Board members to make: “the quality ask” in terms of funding, utilize status or position within their companies for resources, and for lack of a better term “walk the walk” in terms of giving themselves. You only need to look at a Board list to determine the future of organization’s sustainability and impact within a community.
What does your Board look like? What can be done to develop the Board you need and the organizational culture you desire?
When looking to engage and connect with a new donor, remember there are steps you can take to help the interaction have the positive outcome you desire. In most instances, generosity and kindness doesn’t always translate into “effectiveness” when it concerns soliciting new donors. People come to events to be seen publicly, network with peers, or because of who the invite came from, but not always to become actively involved in a cause or organization. Here are three steps to consider when seeking out a relationship with a new donor- Connect, Engagement, and Empower. Let’s go through each step together:
1 – Connect: There is a number of ways to select and identify the type or level of donor you are looking for- so I will leave that to you. Connection is best when it happens on an emotional level, like: empathy towards a situation or event, compassion for a cause, or a genuine desire to help a shared identified group. Connection is the gateway for follow-up and a continued relationship after a successful inital meeting. Without connection moving to our next step- engagement, is hard to accomplish with success.
2 – Engagement: Meaning- get involved with the person on some level. Just talking “at” someone or “cornering” them at an event is not engagement. Too many organizational leaders are pitching their cause without gauging the level of enthusiasm from the person they are attempting to win over. Engaging someone is a mutual act of sharing and dialogue (initiated by either party), if a connection is made then it is easier to invite that person to become part of the process. By the time the conversation is over you should be able to understand someone’s level of commitment or interest. Engagement is extra work on your part- not the other way around. This is where many consultants and organizational leaders lose potential supporters- they believe their organization’s mission should be enough to compel a person to write a check every time (guess what- it’s not!).
3 – Empower: You should desire in the funding world to have the type of donors that work independent of you concerning creating awareness and bringing in revenue. They do this for the love of helping, giving and growing future support for your organization. It is much easier for a friend to solicit money from an acquaintance than it is an agency. A solid organization to donor relationship, empowers the donor to work for you on their time and without supervision or request. Empowered donors sustain organizations. Cultivating new investors, supporters, and volunteers is all about establishing the kind of relationship where you are comfortable asking for help and they see a value in giving it.
It is really hard to connect with someone you know little about or have just met. That is why well prepared prospect research provides organizations with great information about a donor’s favorite charitable cause, past gift amounts, and their prefered method of funding (planned giving, capital or operational funding, or corporate sponsorship). All of these things are important to know, especially if you are attempting to attract a first time donor to your organization. Always take the time to find the right fit for your organization, by looking at the potential donor’s past involvement with other charitable groups. Search engines do the majority of the work, but you will have to do some research on your own by checking out annual reports, local magazines & newspapers, and by checking out donor recognition pages on charity websites.
Best of luck- let me know how your quest for new donors, supporters, and funding goes in the comments.
Successful fundraising occurs when you establish a connection with the potential donor, build your relationship beyond just an “ask,” show appreciation for all gifts, and effectively explain the impact. Too often relationships are lost because an organization spends too much time looking for where the next dollar will come from. In an economy where many people are struggling and competition for donor dollars is fierce, establishing relationships with your investors and volunteers is “smart business” for your organization.
My favorite quote, from Scott Stratten, “If you believe business is built on relationships, then make building relationships your business.” If that is not your philosophy how can you make the genuine connections your organization needs to survive.
There are several strategies you can introduce into your marketing, social media, and stewardship programs immediately that will effectively engage and recognize your organization’s stakeholders. Being authentic in your praise and genuine in your appreciation is the only way to build the lasting relationships your organization needs to be financially viable. By consistently letting stakeholders know how they are making an impact on the populations you serve, you create the environment where they feel their time, money, and resources are truly making a difference (what every donor needs to hear). Stewardship needs to be more than just a thank you letter or random phone call. Effective stewardship can be a relationship development model created to, not only recognize donors, but to recruit potential new stakeholders to your organization.
10 Engagement Ideas you can start today:
- Recognize donors on website/social media (with company profile)
- Recognize volunteers on website/social media (with personal profile)
- Use Twitter for a thank you or special recognition
- List exceptional volunteers on your annual report (not just donor levels)
- Recognize volunteers at special events, not just sponsors
- Top funders & volunteers are always worth doing something extra for (comp tickets to special events)
- Invite stakeholders to join event committees
- Invite funders/volunteers to have meetings at your facility so they can introduce their charitable focus to others (my favorite)
- Ask funders/volunteers to contribute to your newsletter or blog
- Use special event pictures of stakeholders in your press releases (no stock photos)
Bottom line: When it comes to your donors, volunteers, or business partners how are you making them feel for their efforts? This question is very important, why? Because supporting nonprofits today has become more about “feeling” and not about check writing for tax purposes. Businesses today want to be personally involved in philanthropy, but are looking for a hand across the table from an organization and not a hand out.