During a workshop at an international aid organisation in Sydney this week, we had a conversation about relationship fundraising and the importance of staff retention. It takes a long time to build trusting relationships with major donor, legacy, trust and foundation, and corporate partner prospects and donors. Staff turnover is a real hindrance to fruitful and meaningful relationships.
It is estimated it can take three or more years for your staff to gain the confidence of prospective donors, which is needed for these prospects to take the leap to invest in your non-profit organisation. If your staff is turning over at the industry rate of every 18 months, how is it possible for your organisation to acquire and maintain the trust of people and organisations? Your front door cannot be a turnstile. If it is, you and your fellow senior leaders are likely doing something wrong.
Steps to ensure staff retention
Staff turnover costs organisations more than the cost of hiring and onboarding a new staff person. The cost to relationships is significant. If your organisation is having difficulty retaining fundraising staff, here are a few things you might consider putting in place in order to reverse the trend.
Create a fun and productive culture
Culture is key. The best way to ensure a non-profit organisation’s success is to start by ensuring a vibrant culture. Yes, it is called work and not fun. But, work does not have to mean we do not care about one another and we not investing in productive relationships in the workplace.
Offer professional development opportunities
There is an abundance of professional development opportunities. Set aside a budget line item for each staff person to attend at least one conference or a collection of seminars or breakfasts each year. Organisations such as Fundraising Institute Australia, Fundraising & Philanthropy Magazine, CASE, EducatePlus, Blackbaud, and others offer conferences and seminars with significant learning opportunities for your team. Not every professional development opportunity has a huge investment price tag, either. We are seeing Fundraising Institute Australia, Blackbaud and others offer free webinars and breakfasts. Encourage your team members to invest the time in learning at least once per month. Further, ask them to present their learnings in a consolidated fashion at the next staff meeting.
Let others be the boss
You may have the title. But, you need to offer your staff the chance to lead projects. Doing so will further develop your staff professionally and offer them opportunities to shine and to feel good about their contributions to your organisation.
Celebrate more than money raised
The non-profit sector is no different than the corporate sector. We have shareholders as stakeholders (donors) and we have KPIs/goals to meet. Develop KPIs with your team instead of for your team. Create goals which are not only monetary focused, but which encourage the development of very rich relationships with your prospective donors and donors. Goals such as the number of visits, the number of handwritten notes and cards, and the number of other interactions staff have with individuals and organisations can be just as significant as dollars raised. In fact, it is those KPIs which lead to the dollars.
The fact is, many non-profit leaders think the work we do is difficult. Fundraising does not have to be hard. It is easiest when we focus on the relationships and build the most solid ones possible. We can only do that if we stay with the organisation we represent and not jump ship. All of us need to do our part to ensure staff retention is a focus and turnover is not something that is “natural” or “sector norms”. Staff retention ought to be a KPI for every fundraising manager and non-profit leader.