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Tag: fundraising

3 Ways to Provide Growth Pathways for Retaining High-Performing Fundraisers

Throughout my career as a fundraiser and manager, I have interviewed countless candidates who told me the reason they are leaving their current position is a lack of opportunity for growth. Whether the individual works for a non-profit, healthcare institution, or university, I’ve heard that statement time and again.

Don’t let this happen to you and your organization! As you recruit and retain high-performing fundraisers, take steps to advocate and create pathways for these valuable team members. They want to know they make a difference and have a future with your organization. You can use these three strategies to provide growth opportunities for the employees you want to stay with your organization.

  1. Identify whether your high-performing development officers are ready to take on more of a leadership role. Opportunities to lead can come in several forms, not simply giving someone the title of “director.” For example, assign a team member to lead a taskforce or work group. Or, perhaps you can charge the individual with best practice development, such as standards for fundraising travel. Looking externally, are there community groups or committees the individual can join to represent your organization?
  2. Use the power of mentorship as a growth pathway. If your employee aims to eventually supervise staff and become a manager – but they need to expand their approach or style first – ask them to serve as a mentor to a colleague or new hire. Or, perhaps you can put them in charge of developing the on-boarding process for your department. If management is not a goal, identify a mentor for the development officer who is a leader in ways outside of management. For example, provide an opportunity for them to your high performer can shadow you or another leader on an important project to see how you staff a board, build a fundraising initiative, or partner with programmatic staff.
  3. Carve out ten percent of your high performer’s job description for special projects. This is a great way to invest in your super stars while benefiting the larger team. And, your employee will know that you are willing to make a true investment in her when you specifically make time for it. For example, find projects that grow skills in management, volunteer leadership, mentoring, or complex gift strategies.

Your most valuable employees are in high demand in the development community, and regularly see outside opportunities that will allow them to grow. This environment demands that managers be proactive, creative and dedicated to these employees in order to retain them and best serve their organizations. Creating growth pathways is one of the single-most effective ways to ensure your top players will want to stay and continue performing at their best.

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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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7 Tips for Partnering with Your Leadership to Create Successful and Engaging Development Strategies

In our quest to create more – and more impactful – philanthropic relationships, there are few opportunities more impactful than engaging prospects and donors with our institutional leadership. Deans, physicians and others come to conversations with a career built upon a passion for the very area your prospect cares about. This passion lends the authenticity and credibility that is the hallmark of relationships that lead to meaningful giving.

As development professionals, our job is to staff leadership so they interact with prospects and donors not just to meet-and-greet upon occasion, but instead to be a part of a thoughtful – and effective – donor engagement/cultivation cycle.

Staffing leadership, however, can be a challenge. Your leader may be an expert in his or her area and comfortable speaking to hospital administration or academic research, yet clam up or run on when asked to speak about personal engagement, philanthropy or impact. To prepare your leader to talk about the organizational vision and truly connect with the donor, follow these seven tips.

  1. Use leadership to do more than making “the ask.” To create long-lasting relationships of depth between leadership and prospective donors, you need to get the president or dean involved in the process as early as possible. When asking yourself how to use your leader, identify the gaps in engagement that only the leader can fill – articulating transformative vision, signaling to a prospect that the institution takes him or her seriously, etc. Help your leader understand these interactions in the context of the larger relationship building process by sharing written strategies (and soliciting feedback) long before the “ask” so that your leader values his or her role in the process.
  2. Recognize the unique role leadership plays. Institutional leaders wear many hats. This is especially true in development and when interacting with donors and community members. Make sure you are clear with your leader what role you’re asking him or her to take on. Are you asking your leader to be a champion, an executive, a cheerleader, or an administrator? How does your own role in the meeting complement the leader’s role? Being clear on the role and coming up with a strategy – and talking points – to match the donor is key.
  3. Ask your president, physician, dean: “Why should the donor say ‘yes’?” One of the best ways to ensure leadership is on the same page as the organization’s mission is to ask why they believe our donors should fulfill the ask. That discussion is invaluable and will provide hints to get you ready for prime time. It will also help identify possible objections. Be prepared to coach and direct in this conversation.
  4. Ride with leadership to donor meetings. As a frontline fundraiser, one of your greatest opportunities is to keep your dean or physician engaged and focused in philanthropic discussions. Yes, they are busy – so busy they may not think about these discussions until they are on their way to the meeting – or walking through the door! Use this to your advantage; walk or drive with them to a meeting. This ensures your leader is focused on the donor, as opposed to the budget or policy discussion that just ended. And here’s a best practice tip: Commit to having a development professional at every meeting!
  5. Talking points are a road map. Always write a loose script of what you expect or want to happen at the meeting. This will ensure the meeting is focused, and that you move the donor along. Include transitions and possible objections. Be clear about who will respond to what type of inquiries (for example – if the prospect wants to talk pledge fulfillment or gift structure options, can your leader answer these, or should you step in as the development professional?) And don’t forget a scenario if the donor says, “yes” to your request!
  6. Recap the past to move to the future. Remind leadership of relationship highlights so they start every conversation with meaningful gratitude. Saying “thank you” is one of the best icebreakers, and it’s perfect for calming leadership nerves.
  7. Write SILENCE into all ask talking points. While they say silence is golden, it can sometimes make for uncomfortable pauses in conversations with donors. Make sure your leader is prepared for that by including silence into talking points – especially after making “the ask”!

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The “Secret” Skills to Being a High-Performing Fundraiser

I am often asked what skill or trait is most needed to be a high-performing fundraiser. I have been working in the field of philanthropy and fundraising for more than 21 years, for organizations that range from institutions of higher education to healthcare organizations. And over the years, my answer has stayed consistent.

The first skill development officers need to have is confidence. As front-line fundraisers, we are often the representatives of our respective institutions. Whether it’s intentional or not, donors and prospects see us as the face and voice of our organizations. This is why it’s so critical to maintain a confident nature and be the best outward face possible.

Developing a strong sense of confidence is also critical because – let’s face it – we receive a lot of rejection in our field. That is the nature of fundraising. We need to learn to not take this rejection personally.

My second answer to what trait is needed to be a high-performing development officer is polite persistence. Fundraising is not for the faint of heart. It takes an average of 11 outreaches for a prospect/donor to respond “yes” to a meeting. This translates to a balancing act between polite and persistence to get to a “yes.”

However as our industry continues to evolve, I’m finding there are two more critical skills that are becoming increasingly important to be a high-performing fundraiser. Those attributes are focus and discipline.

Many development officers I’ve worked with over the years did not know how to develop focus and discipline when it came to fundraising. They were hired into fundraising positions to build relationships that lead to meaningful solicitations. Yet when it came to developing a system to consistently do the work and make progressions, they lacked the skills to make this happen. Focus and discipline are often neglected at professional development conferences and I believe it is one key reason why our industry faces such high rates of turnover.

In order to become a high-performing fundraiser, you need to look at what’s holding you back from succeeding. Is it a fear of rejection? Is it failure to be persistent and follow through? Or perhaps it is, quite simply, that you need someone to help you grow your confidence and show you how to focus your development efforts.

This is where ongoing training and support is critical in our field. In order to survive and thrive in today’s development climate, organizations must ensure development professionals receive coaching and guidance on even the most basic fundraising skills. Investing in advancement training is not only a retention tool; it is critical to create long-term, high-performing front line fundraising teams.

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