Two statements that I hear constantly, in fundraising shops of all types and sizes, are:
“In order for me to grow in development, I need to find a position at a new organization.”
And, “One of the biggest – if not the biggest – challenges I face as a development manager is the constant staff turnover.”
Employees eager to grow feel they must leave. Managers are searching for a way to get their staff to stay. And yet…with the average development officer tenure remaining stubbornly under two years, it’s clear these two completely in-sync needs have yet to find a way forward together.
The truth is, sometimes employees do need to leave – but not nearly as often as they currently are. And when employees stay, everyone benefits: development officers gain important foundational skills, are able to demonstrate steadiness, cultivate relationships that lead to larger gifts, and experience the quality of life that stability provides for many. Organizations see more successful donor relationships, are not so often distracted by onboarding and starting anew, and are more effective in building a productive culture.
So how do we help employees stay? First, we must create cultures that foster transparent dialogue about professional growth. Staff members need to feel that discussing career options is safe, and managers must commit to entering these conversations with care and honesty.
Second, it is up to managers to lead the way by:
- Openly discussing timelines and expectations for promotion and raises early and often;
- Identifying non-promotional opportunities to expand an employee’s skill set and experiences;
- Celebrating and rewarding employee successes outside of offering promotions;
- Offering thoughtful and honest feedback on an employee’s progress toward his or her goals;
- Recognize a shifting culture toward increased work-life balance; and,
- Advocating for appropriate raises and promotions with the organization’s senior leadership by discussing the return on value in retaining a high-performing, stable employee.
However, this is not a one-way conversation. Employees who participate as well, by undertaking the following, will likely find a much more fulfilling path ahead:
- Demonstrating a sustained expertise for their current positions before seeking growth;
- Recognizing feedback is a critical part of the growth process;
- Keeping an eye open for opportunities to learn new skills, and asking their managers to participate in these; and,
- Spending time seeking insight on how their strengths match career opportunities and organizational needs.
We as managers can cut down on turnover with this kind of culture – I’ve seen it, and I’ve done it. That doesn’t mean every employee will stay. However, when staff members do leave in an environment like this, it’s more likely to be because the organization truly isn’t able to provide the next step for an employee. And the employee is more likely to leave on good terms, allowing for a more productive transition. Whether it’s the organization maintaining morale or a positive relationship in case the employee ever wishes to return, or it’s the employee preserving a professional reputation, this type of departure benefits all parties.