For the past two years, I and my colleagues at Cygnus have been conducting research on a fascinating and frustrating issue — the rate of staff turnover in the fundraising industry. 1100 professional fundraisers at all levels of their careers have participated in a three-part study on the underlying causes of premature job change and whether and how tenure can be extended. We are currently adding to that research with studies that ask CEOs, Board members and donors for their views on the subject.
Contribute Your Story
Through this post, I am reaching out to subscribers for a unique contribution to this project. I’m looking for stories on two themes:
- memorable experiences in fundraising that influenced you to stay longer in a job…or leave sooner
- stories about the best boss you ever had — what made him/her an exceptional leader and the impact that he/she had on you and your career
Our research data is compelling; but anecdotal experiences help readers grasp the issues on another level. Please see the Story Submission Guidelines and Submission Form by following this link.
I’ll have much more to say about staff mobility in fundraising over the next few months as we get closer to publishing the results in mid-2010. But, for now, here is some information from our research that you might find interesting.
Is the Rate of Staff Turnover in Fundraising a Problem?
Extending a valued fundraiser’s term for even one more year has huge implications on revenue, fundraising cost and donor confidence. So, it’s not surprising that 87% of top Development execs agree that the rate of staff turnover in fundraising is a problem. It’s not that fundraising is an unappealing career choice, though (thank goodness.) In fact, 75% of people who enter the field, regardless of their original motivation, plan to stay in fundraising indefinitely or evolve into positions in which fundraising experience is a decided advantage (like becoming a not-for-profit CEO, for example.) Where the problem lies is in job-to-job tenure. For example, fundraisers in front-line, non-management positions say that it takes them ten to twelve months to get fully up to speed in a new position. However, with the average tenure in these positions well under two years, not-for-profits are justified in questioning whether they are getting good value for money.
While tenure lengthens as seniority rises, the supply/demand ratio in our business is a nightmare for employers…but a boon for search firms and job banks, it seems. Senior Development professionals say they are approached for another position, on average, in about ninety days after starting a new job.
Why Fundraisers Leave
39% of professional fundraisers were planning to leave their jobs at the time they responded to our survey. While the desire to change jobs was often motivated by more than one factor, these are the top four reasons why respondents were seeking another career opportunity:
- 48% – to obtain a higher salary elsewhere
- 39% – because they felt they had achieved all they set out to accomplish in their current positions
- 31% – to get away from the “old-school culture” of fundraising
- 15% – to reduce commuting time / to work closer to home
The “old-school culture” of fundraising encompasses a number of issues identified by survey respondents, such as:
- lack of appreciation for the time it takes to cultivate donors and raise increasingly profitable gifts, often expressed by Boards or CEOs as, “We have to have the money now.”
- viewing fundraising expense as unfortunate cost rather than essential investment (fundraisers themselves sometimes perpetuate this view, by the way)
- seeing paid fundraising staff as replacing, rather than enhancing or supplementing fundraising by leadership volunteers
I look forward to telling you more about this intriguing research over the next few months. In the meantime, I hope you will contribute a story.
Happy holidays from someone who is bucking the trend. I have been in the same job for 19.5 years.