Why new fundraisers quit so soon...

Notably re-quotable

“Wealthier Americans have seen their net worth rise by 60 to 70 percent. It’s really surprising that giving hasn’t expanded more.” ~ The Chronicle of Philanthropy, quoting Alison Powell, partner, Bridgespan Group, a leading social impact consultancy and 2022 winner of “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” (awarded by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation). P.S. Bridgespan has plenty of open positions; listings include luscious, market-rate salary ranges.

File under: “Will YOUR newly hired fundraiser stay long enough to make any difference?”

New hires need support, trust ... and (most importantly) room to fail

A nonprofit founder asks a seemingly simple question: My opinion-avalanche follows

Ed (the founder) emailed me this query in February 2022:

I recently hired a young man to raise funds for our organization. He is convinced that the best and first thing we should be doing is run our database through a wealth screening software that grades each donor. Then contact the donors with the most capacity to give. How do you feel about this model? We have a database of 8K. Average annual donation is less that $100.

Here’s what I wrote back to Ed (the founder) ….

I have lightly-informed opinions and no direct knowledge of wealth screening. I’ve used it just once in a two-decade nonprofit career. Worse, that was a very long time ago, so I have no vendor to recommend now.

Hey! Let the opinions run free!!!

Your statement caught my eye: “I recently hired a young man to raise funds for our organization. He is convinced….”

Clearly, from what you otherwise said, you’re open to this new hire’s suggestion. (Bravo!)

And you’re conducting reasonable due diligence, as a competent executive does. (Ditto!)

Ed … you might not realize it (or maybe you do) … that you’re already headed down the right road toward nipping a common nonprofit management problem in the bud.

In 2021 we heard about the Big Quit (Great Resignation). Well, the fundraising trade was early to that party.


A 16-month tenure will cost you

Nonprofit executive recruiters, Benefactor Group, blogged this recently:

“According to a study by author Penelope Burk, the average fundraiser stays at his or her job for 16 months before assuming another position. And replacing these professionals doesn’t come cheaply — averaging 90% to 200% of their salary in direct and indirect costs, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.”

As you may or may not be aware, the nonprofit industry in North America has struggled for at least a decade with one glaring employee issue: the too-rapid turnover of those who enter new fundraising positions.

Bottom line? Sixteen months newly hired into a fundraising job is not enough for anyone to do much good.

Sorry, unicorn farmers.

Experts say it takes 3 years to get a functioning, reliable fundraising program up and running (i.e., into the black and growing).


Why IS there a 16-month problem?

I’ve tried to train fundraisers re: donor communications for about 20 years. I’ve heard a LOT of recurring workplace complaints.

I’d be humming along in some presentation, recommending all sorts of proven techniques collected from around the world … and yet invariably some fundraiser would query, “Look, Tom, I know my boss won’t let me do what you’re suggesting. Do you have any advice on how to get him to change his mind?”

Assuming the boss was sane, reasonable, and non-toxic … then, yes, I had advice.

But that was rarely the case. For those poor souls with stubborn, dismissive managers, male and female, my only advice was this: “Get your resume in good working order. You need and deserve a better boss.”

Fundraising is one of the hardest jobs I know on earth. It’s highly technical. And it’s brutal: people turn you down a lot. Plus: in a smaller NGO, you’re wearing probably 6 different hats if you’re any good at the work.

If you’re being second-guessed by your boss as well … well, that hard job of fundraising just became downright discouraging.

The power dynamic is already tricky.

A boss is a boss. The boss wields control. The boss can at whim withhold support and approval and praise and patience and all the things that grow a great employee (i.e., one who stays longer than 16 months).

And then I got personal….

A founder/boss like you, Ed, is even trickier. For a founder/boss, it’s not just a job … it’s a vision. And people like you prefer to get to that vision FAST. So sometimes impatience can rear its ugly head. Quick fixes and bright ideas can sometimes raise their ugly heads, too: boards are especially good at growing these heads.


Oh, yeah … about wealth screening

Ed, I don’t know you, so allow me to apologize if anything I’ve said is offensive. My assumption is you’re one of the sane bosses (after all, you took the time to write and inquire an opinion).

My advice to ALL charity bosses is the same: encourage your newbie fundraiser to learn and TRY stuff.

Try not to second-guess (no one’s fault: it’s instinctual; a basic mental bias).

Let your new hires try and fail … or succeed!!!!! Encourage them to find good mentors (I’ve had roughly 1,000; I have literally 500 how-to books in my office).

So, you tell me: YOUR new hire believes in wealth screening? Maybe practice this response in the mirror: “Sounds promising. Maybe even exciting! Go forth and prosper. Let me know what you find.”

Now, since asked about wealth screening … let me finally turn to that.

I’m not a fundraiser myself.

I work FOR fundraisers … and I work for very BIG charities and very SMALL charities. So, while the following is only my opinion, it is, I swear, an “informed-ish” opinion, based on what I’ve seen clients and experts do.

The people who routinely do wealth screening are the biggies.

A. There’s a cost involved … and they can afford the investment.

B. They have what are called Major Gift Officers (MGOs), who only chase gifts above a certain size (say $10K-25K minimum for a university).

These MGOs have a portfolio of 100-150 names whom they approach each year. It’s personal work. It’s labor intensive. It requires tenacity and a great personality and some darned good sales skill to perform at the MGO level.

On the other hand, an institution will pay a successful MGO all outdoors. Why? Because they’re expected to raise (after 3 years in the job) 10 times their salary. As a qualified MGO, you can command $100,000+ a year … because you’re likely to bring in $1 million+ a year.


About your new guy

Your new hire hopes to gather advance intelligence (a good sign right there, yes?) … that will make his hard job somewhat easier.

After all, he’s going to have to be not just an “every-donor officer,” he’ll have to be an MGO, too.

How does one know exactly — amongst the thousands of people you say you have on your mailing list — those individuals who CAN easily make a major gift?

Simple business efficiency says that you don’t want to “waste” a MGO’s time seeking BIG gifts from donors whose in-life capacity is SMALL.

All donors are saints and angels … but most can only afford to give your cause right now that $100 average annual gift you mentioned. (Charitable bequests are another story altogether; those are “major gifts for the rest of us.”)

Wealth screening helps identify those amongst your true believers who can perhaps lay a golden egg, if well and truly asked.


Fundraising is not an expense; it’s an investment

Wealth screening is an investment.

And that’s brings up ANOTHER perpetual problem that many smaller (or poorly governed) charities have: They see fundraising expenses (salaries, education, services like wealth screening) as costs rather than investments.

Fundraising is a BUSINESS activity.

Like all business activities, you spend money to make money. You take calculated risks. You become a learning culture and adapt as you go; seeking greater impact and sustainability.

Phew, Ed…. Done. That took a lot of opinion-making, Ed. I need a refreshing fruit drink.


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Did you miss any crucial back issues of my how-to e-news?

Immediately available! Just GO here.

2022 short list:

9 awesome books my chief guru, Seth Godin, recommends NOW

HERE. To quote Seth G.: “Every one of these authors is the real deal. They’ve done the work and they’ve shown up to make a difference. My life is better for knowing them as friends and colleagues. I’m lucky to be able to share them with you.”

3 things make fundraising stories work best

HERE. Kevin Schulman nails what’s different emotionally (to the reader) about the stories you use for fundraising. Kevin’s nothing if not direct. This is his concern: “Story matters…. It’s simple to say, simple to agree with and yet, our story telling in the sector is lousy … with average Story scores of under 50 on a 0 to 100 scale, per our Copy Optimizer.”

R U a museum? Arts attraction? Here’s new data about “Welcoming people like me…”

HERE. I don’t know this blogger … but her deep data dives fascinate me. I’ve been involved with selling cultural attractions for years. A current client, e.g., is a new Indigenous museum with solid plans to go world-class. And the data delivered by Colleen Dilenschneider, I find, is UNIQUELY useful and mind-altering (that’s a good thing). The title of this particular blog post? “Have Cultural Entities Grown More Welcoming? Here’s What The Public Thinks.” There’s good news (generally speaking, trends are going in the right direction). There’s worse news, though. In 6 categories (for instance, re: art or history museums … and zoos) minority audiences felt those institutions are still “NOT welcoming to people like me.”

Free ESSENTIAL, demystifying (and downloadable) how-to treasure

HERE. “Dear authors: Thank you for your service to the fundraising trade.” I’m speaking personally to the 2 founders of The Better Fundraising Company, Jim Shapiro and Steven Screen. In 2020, as the pandemic started to scourge the land, they released for free an email template for emergency fundraising. Countless charities in the U.S. (probably elsewhere) put this easy-to-follow template to work … and raised millions!!! Now they have another essential freebie: their Fundraising Offers PDF download. I’m not sure I can explain how vital a working understanding of offers is … except to say that, without that understanding, you will fail over and over again. There are 3 things that matter to the success of fundraising appeals, according to world-class fundraising guru, Jeff Brooks … and one of those 3 things is your OFFER. Once more: this new PDF is free. Quoting from its page 3: “A fundraising offer is the main thing a fundraising piece says will happen when the person gives a gift.” Thank goodness, after 4 decades in marketing, I know viscerally what that statement actually means. If you’re not quite sure of its meaning, get your free copy.

For your entertainment…

HERE. OZY, a self-described “modern media company” with the very excellent tagline “Live Curiously” led me to this hopeful story. Let it load, so the video runs. OZY (an email feed I always open; scroll to the bottom on their ABOUT page to sign up for FREE) says this about that: “As a legal eagle who turned to comedy to find her wings, Faiza Saleem was a nonconformist from the get-go. But that is to say nothing of her role as a galvanizer of female comedy in Pakistan.”

Reread those last 7 bolded words. > Think. > Now CLICK.