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Six Ways to Retain Your Talented Fundraising Staff

Why is it that development professionals change jobs every few years? In our profession, we’ve come to expect high turnover, with new hires staying only an average of 16 months at a time.

The bottom line is that turnover costs organizations money and more. Losing staff can put a serious dent in your fundraising. Not only does being short-staffed decrease fundraising capacity, but conducting a search and then training new hires also takes valuable time from leadership as they are diverted to this other work. It takes time to rebuild the relationships with donors that your former staff member developed. And since the best time to negotiate for pay for many organizations is at the start of the job, it may cost more to attract the person you want.

Adding these costs up, fundraising researcher and expert Penelope Burk puts the direct and indirect costs for replacing fundraising staff at 117% of their annual salary. This can really impact an organization’s bottom line, and to accept this as an industry standard loses nonprofits millions of dollars every year.

Here are six ways your organization can address staffing instability:

1. Share values, goals, and connection to the mission.

At nonprofits, the work we do is directly impacting the lives of the people we serve. That’s what draws so many of us to nonprofit work. But for some of us, we can get so bogged down with the day-to-day that we forget what makes our work so important.

It is the role of leadership to be champions for the organization’s mission and create a culture that encourages both donors and staff to be passionate about the direction of the organization. If the fundraising staff is excited about their work, they’ll not only be more inclined to stay long term but also better able to present a strong case to donors.

2. Develop positive relationships in the workplace.

In the past, we’ve often been told to keep our personal and professional lives separate. But when we spend most of our waking hours at work, workplace relationships become an essential part of our lives.  Organizations should prioritize building real, meaningful relationships between staff members.

As leaders, we help create this environment by being authentic and sharing our personal side to encourage our staff to feel more comfortable doing the same. By being observant and interested in what our colleagues share with us, it shows them that we care. Not only do relationships make work more enjoyable, they also help us produce better work. Relationships help your team be more open to collaboration and respond better to criticism. It’s also important for leadership to be humble – we should admit when we don’t know the answer and admit when we’ve made mistakes. When leadership accepts accountability, it helps prevent building a toxic workplace culture of blame shifting.

3. Create an environment that is open to new ideas and disagreement.

One of the strongest factors leading to job satisfaction is that a staff member feels that his or her input is valuable and is heard within the organization. This requires that an organization’s leadership be open to the new ideas that their staff brings.

New ideas will often bring about disagreements. Organizations shouldn’t fear disagreement – any time groups of people work together they are bound to disagree.  In fact, healthy dissent can improve old and tired ways of doing things, weed out bad ideas, and make new ideas stronger. This is especially true for developing a major gifts strategy. If organizations foster a culture of mutual respect that keeps conflict professional, not personal or emotional, then they’ll be able to do exciting and innovative work.

4. Take the time to mentor and promote professional development with your staff.

One common reason for moving on from a role is that people no longer feel challenged. If we’ve built a trusting relationship with our staff, it puts us in a better place to help them grow in their abilities. It’s important to both critique staff to help them improve, and also to allow them to take on new projects. By helping staff to strengthen and expand their skill set you’ll keep the work challenging and interesting.

It’s also important to prioritize professional development with your staff. Set aside some time and/or money each year for training, conferences, and webinars. Strengthening skills and staying on top of the latest techniques in fundraising will both be rewarding for staff and the long-term growth of your institution.

5. Plan regular raises for staff.

Talking about money is uncomfortable for most people. As fundraisers, we do it every day. But even though it should be easier for us, we often make some basic mistakes that drive talent away.

When hiring new staff, the salary budget should be flexible and should never be considered static. Nonprofits should plan for a new hire’s salary to grow significantly over time. The longer a staff member is at an organization, the more value they have to an institution in years of experience, firsthand knowledge of the organization, and relationships with donors. It’s a good idea for organizations to do research every few years to be sure they’re staying competitive and planning raises accordingly.

It may seem as though you don’t have the budget to give significant raises, but that view is shortsighted. In actuality, the cost is much less to offer pay increases and better benefits than it is to hire someone new when your staff are recruited away.  Sit down with your institution’s HR officer early on to discuss this issue.

6. Promote and hire from within.

It can be difficult for staff members to see their future at an organization if they don’t feel that they’re advancing over time. That’s why it’s important for leaders to recognize their staff’s achievements, improvements, and growth through promotions and title changes.

When senior staff does move on, consider that sometimes the best person to replace them is someone who already works there. By considering current staff and giving them the opportunity to grow into a more senior role, you’re showing them that you believe in their talent and you’re challenging them to do their best work.


These strategies aren’t always easy to incorporate in an organization. But if, like many nonprofits, you have trouble hanging on to your most talented people, it’s time to consider what your organization could be doing to break this cycle.

What’s the Real Impact of Social Impact Bonds?

In the past ten years, social entrepreneurship has grown from a theoretical model to an outright trend. We’re seeing more and more techniques from the business world applied to resolving cultural, social, and environmental issues. This hybrid model is, in concept, a win-win – creating a profitable business that changes the world for the better. The emergence of high-profile Social Impact Bonds in recent years is part of this trend. While they’ve created a lot of buzz, a lot of us in the nonprofit world have wondered how – and how well – do Social Impact Bonds work?

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Six of the Biggest Challenges on the Horizon for Nonprofits

One of our roles as consultants is to help our clients maintain focus on long-term strategy. The pressures of the day-to-day tend to force most institutional leaders to resort to short-term solutions. As the old adage goes, “It’s difficult to remember, when you are up to your ears in alligators, that your main job is to drain the swamp!”

Part of our responsibility is to always be thinking months ahead, preparing our client to face the challenges that lie just around the corner. We also bring a broad base of experience in the larger marketplace to institutional leaders, which can help them to recognize—with time to make adjustments—some of the inevitable challenges they will face.

We’re betting that most of the following will be questions you’ll have to face in one way or another over the next few years, if you’re not facing them already. Continue reading

7 Characteristics of Successful Campaign Volunteers

You will never achieve a 100% success rate in recruiting successful volunteers, despite everyone’s best intentions. However, you can increase the likelihood of your success by carefully considering and assessing your candidates before you ask them to serve.

When seeking volunteers to help you solicit gifts to your campaign, look for individuals who have as many of the following characteristics as possible: Continue reading

How Conducting Your Own Benchmarking Study Can Transform Your Fundraising

A lot of organizations make some pretty big assumptions about their development programs.  These assumptions might sound like: “We need to increase our corporate gifts,” or “Planned giving just doesn’t work for us.”

Nonprofits frequently look at their own previous fundraising results to plan and strategize.  But the truth is, it can be a challenge to see what’s working, or what you’re not doing so well, until you have an understanding of how you stack up against your peers. Continue reading

Campaign Readiness Checklist

Perhaps you need a new building, some new technology, or a new program. You want to grow and expand, so you’d like to start a campaign. But do you have everything in place to begin? Ensuring campaign readiness will help you to prevent any setbacks during your campaign.

Before you spend the time and effort of performing a careful internal assessment or putting together a campaign planning task force, you need to make sure you meet some basic criteria. Continue reading

The Elusive “Super Savers” of Planned Giving

Who did you include in your last planned giving mailing? If you just mailed to the usual list of donors, chances are you’re missing out.

Our clients North Park University recently completed the most successful campaign in its history. While performing our post-campaign assessment, we examined all of the bequests they’d received during the campaign. We wanted to see to what degree past giving is an indicator of future likelihood of receiving a planned gift, and if there was a relationship between the amount of historical giving and the size of the planned gift. Continue reading

4 Things Great Fundraising Candidates Do in a Job Search

I’ve worked with several organizations in the past year to help them find chief development officers. When I review candidates for fundraising positions, I look to see how the characteristics they exhibit during a job search will transfer to their work in fundraising. In every search, there are always a handful of candidates that stand out from the pack.

So what do these great candidates do? Continue reading

Four Ways You Can Start Your Fundraising Year Off Strong

As June winds down and summer kicks into high gear, many nonprofits are also closing in on the end of their fiscal year. Whether your year ends June 30, December 31, or on a more creative date, many fundraisers put most of their focus on getting to that finish line.

Chances are you’ll have a lot to be proud of, especially since giving reached an all-time high in 2014. While it’s important to celebrate your accomplishments, it’s equally important to not let the celebration last too long into the new year.

Momentum is your friend. It’s understandable to want to catch your breath after sprinting to the finish line. But your new year will be much less stressful if you follow these four tips to help you get a good start at the beginning of the year. Continue reading

Positioning Your Organization for Growth Post-Recession

By Jon Heintzelman and Dean Rein

When the Great Recession hit in 2007, many financial advisors were telling investors to stay in the market in order to, eventually, benefit from an anticipated rebound. But that’s the world of investing. In the nonprofit world, this advice would prove to be nearly impossible to follow.

With a decline in the economy, giving also declined. Reduced funding meant that we had to take a hard look at our budgets and make some tough decisions.  Many nonprofits were forced to reduce staffing and resources for development operations.

According to the Giving USA report released last week, giving has finally surpassed the high from before the recession. When we’re working with clients, we’re seeing a renewed sense of optimism, and that’s exciting. But how can we make the most of this upward trend to strengthen our development programs and, ultimately, our organizations?

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