The last time I went for an interview for a fundraising job, the CEO interviewing me asked: “Why do you think there is so much turnover in fundraising jobs?” Like many, he wanted to know if there was something about fundraising professionals or the profession that resulted in fundraisers career hopping from one position to the next to obtain higher and higher levels of compensation.

I told him that the key to keeping a good fundraiser is to make your workplace a great place to work. I have long argued that there is nothing unique about fundraisers and that fundraisers want the same things that all others want—to feel valued and respected, to make a contribution, to do meaningful work, to be treated with kindness, to be given opportunities to grow and develop.

While I believe that’s true, I also believe that there are some ways that nonprofits tend to treat fundraising professionals different from the other staff members who work for them. Most fundraising professionals have very specific goals—how much to raise by when. Often fundraisers have multiple goals (planned giving goals, Giving Tuesday goals, event goals, major gift goals…all measurable).

In contrast, I have worked with very few nonprofit organizations that have meaningful goals for program directors, human resources personnel, marketing personnel, and others.

At one of the last organizations I worked with, I remember sitting in a room full of the top managers of the organization. The CEO criticized fundraising results. I pointed out that the fundraising team had secured 90% of the resources that the team had projected it would secure.

“Is 90% acceptable to you?” the CEO asked me. He went on to communicate that 90% was definitely not acceptable to him. Then, switching to reviewing program, he commended the program personnel for achieving the goal of 40%, 40% of the homeless people we had placed in housing were still not homeless 6 months later.  The CEO explained that housing homeless people was hard work.

I wanted to blurt out “What! You think fundraising is easy?”

I confess I wanted to protest that if development wasn’t considered successful when it hit 90% of its expected results that surely program didn’t get to be successful with a 40% rate! I’ll add that at the time, I had only been on-board at that organization a few months and I had had no part in setting the fundraising goals which I thought were very unrealistic. At that time, I thought 90% was pretty darn good for the fundraising team.

I recognize that the goals that are appropriate for one team and one group might not be appropriate for another team and another part of an organization. Nonetheless, I think there should have been some recognition that development was being given no margin of error, no room for failure, whereas other parts of the organization were not only permitted, but expected, to fail.

That situation wasn’t wholly unusual. At far too many other organizations I’ve served, development has had goals and others have had no goals at all or have had had only soft goals that they could measure (or not measure) however they wanted. I’ve sat in many meetings and SWOT analysis sessions where fundraising is discussed in hard metrics and numbers while program is discussed in “people love us” glows without any sort of meaningful outcomes assessment to substantiate staff opinions of how great the program is.

Fundraising is in part a result of many things other than what development professionals do. Holding nonprofit professionals other than the development staff to higher, specific measurable standards will not only improve a nonprofit’s programs and services, it will also help fundraising. Fundraising is in large part a reflection of the public’s perceived value of the services.

While there are many things nonprofits can do to become great places to work, one of the things that they can do to make organizations great places to work for development professionals is to hold all staff to a similar set of standards, to not hold development professionals to higher standards than others, and to make sure that all staff (including development professionals) have margin for learning and error.  Everyone would benefit (including our clients) if we would demand the same level of excellence from all staff that nonprofits are pretty routinely demanding of development professionals.

Picture, used with permission: Design

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