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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