5 Strategies for Retaining High-Performing Fundraising Staff

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5 Strategies for Retaining High-Performing Fundraising Staff

It seems like every few months, a new survey reveals that the top concerns of nonprofit chief executives is the loss of high-performing development staff. It’s a sad state of the industry when the majority of development officers plan to leave their position within 12 months of being hired. And there’s plenty to suggest that more fundraisers are leaving the industry than joining.

Yet even with this information presented to us, our industry continues to focus on recruiting rather than retaining the very staff we say we want to keep – the staff that know our organizations, our donors and leaders. If building a high-performing team is a priority for you and your organization, you must shift your culture so your team members actually want to stay.

But how does an organization do that? These five strategies will change the way you retain skilled staff in a culture that demands high-performing fundraisers.

  1. Add “WOW” into onboarding. Most new staff will decide within 90 days if they made the right decision in joining your organization, so make those 90 days count! Onboarding new staff is much more than providing a parking space and keys on a first day. Meaningful onboarding means creating “WOW” (Welcome, Ongoing, Warmth) tools that make new employees feel they are set up for success. If you are not formally ensuring introductions to key colleagues, access to mentors, and clear best practice tools, your new employees will quickly wonder whether they made the right choice.
  2. Agree on clear plans and expectations. Staff do best when you are in agreement about what is expected of them. When welcoming a new staff member, create a 90-day plan to define where they should spend their time, and what deliverables are expected. Add an annual plan to ensure that you both have a clear, shared vision. This also ensures an objective way to check progress, reinforce expectations, and build accountability and growth into their performance. Asking your employee to develop an annual plan is an excellent way to facilitate growth and buy-in.
  3. Don’t just review – discuss! Performance reviews should not be a one-way conversation. They are most productive when they are a mutual reflection on the past and they set a roadmap for the future. Asking employees for their opinions, along with accomplishments, hurdles and opportunities for improvement, makes them feel invested in the process and to give you invaluable insight as a manager. Make sure to pose specific questions to them in advance of the review so they have time to reflect and come prepared for the conversation.
  4. Put away your cookie cutters. Every staff member is different, which means you need to adapt your management. Actively assess the management tools you use, and whether they are equally effective for each employee. Where you lack efficacy, think about how you can change your approach. In managing employee differences, identify the individuals’ unique strengths and techniques to help them maximize those strengths. Remember that the crucial act of celebrating those individual strengths requires understanding differences too!
  5. Create and customize professional development. High performers want to continually up their game. Obvious opportunities exist in conferences, webinars and online learning. But think the less apparent approaches: site visits, small group cohort conversations, time with peers, and fundraising coaching. Employee milestones – meeting goals, tenure in position – are perfect for providing special opportunities to grow their talent.

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Kathy Drucquer Duff
Kathy Drucquer Duff
Every day I have the pleasure of assisting fundraisers and leaders become the strongest possible team. I believe people and relationships are at the heart of everything we do. The best investment an organization can make is in talent, because nurturing and inspiring teams creates lasting philanthropic relationships.
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