Want to Keep Your Best Fundraisers? Redefine Management

career connection employee satisfaction growth leadership management purpose Mar 01, 2022

The Great Resignation is real. Every advancement leader I’ve spoken to in the last month agrees: key people have left and too many terrific fundraisers may leave soon.

That is costly and disruptive. As one advancement leader reminded me, “It could take me a year and a big investment to hire the right person and then another one to two before they’re raising money. That’s years of wasted opportunity.”

At the same time, hiring pools are alarmingly slim and salary requirements are substantially higher than just a year ago, while institutional budgets have not caught up. Which is to say, it may be harder than ever to replace great people.

Much better – and so much cheaper – to invest in keeping your best people. But how?

Create better managers!

Fundraisers are leaving for higher salaries and bigger titles, as they always have. But now they are also leaving for flexible schedules, 100% remote work, and more nebulous goals like “cultural alignment.

The good news? Inspired management can address all of that.

Today, in addition to helping your team build the skills and practices that raise millions of dollars and build successful careers, it’s smart to help them feel seen and appreciated, respected and important so they will want to stay.

For those of you rolling your eyes at this moment, I do get it. I’d have been a fellow eye-roller at one point. But that day is done. This is a seller’s labor market. You need to create amazing results year after year and you must have stellar people to do it. And honestly, it was time to switch this up years ago.

You are not managing workers on a factory floor, insisting on minimum compliance to well-defined rules and schedules (like, say, 8-5). On the contrary, you are asking highly sophisticated professionals to work independently, entrepreneurially, and collaboratively, to manage their time and your budget while on the road extensively (or while homeschooling kids and coworking with spouses during a pandemic).

You trust fundraisers to have unsupervised conversations with your university’s most accomplished alumni, successful companies, generous donors. From these people, you don’t want minimum compliance – you want maximum inspiration, creativity, and production.

So the question is: are your systems set up for that? Is every one of the people managing your frontline fundraisers managing for that? If not, why not? How could they – how could you all be?

This is our obsession when we work with teams for an entire month in Management Mastermind – how break through to the next level of excellence, achievement, and work satisfaction in development. This is how you attract, develop, and keep the best talent so that you hit growing goals year after year after year.

Manage for growth. The best managers see the potential in their direct reports and help them achieve it. If you are not communicating crystal-clearly the competencies needed at every level, saying transparently what you’re looking for in order to promote, this is the moment to invest in doing so. For your best people, consider following ASU’s Eric Spicer in creating “individualized development plans for people, thinking carefully about what kind of experiences I can give them to achieve competencies, whether that’s on-the-job experience, mentoring, or formal training.” The best people want to grow – if they don’t see a clear path, they’ll likely leave.

Manage for outcomes. Great managers make expectations crystal clear and actively coach for success. Sometimes we talk so much about relationships that fundraisers lose sight of raising money as the goal. So make that super clear! And then coach for it. Which you can’t do if you don’t see the plays so read those contact reports. Give your people specific feedback – help them think of new ways to focus on gift conversations, talk with donors about the real impact they want to have, enrich relationships with contact between visits, and write contact reports in the donors’ own words. This helps your team feel accomplished and confident and keeps everyone moving toward a gift.

Manage for meaning. Your best people want to make a difference. In every possible meeting, event, and written communication, let them know they have! As UCSB’s Chris Pizzinat says, “Sometimes we get lost in closing the next gift and have a tendency to put all our focus on metrics. There’s a space for that, but it’s critical that our people understand their impact in the same way our donors do. The focus has to be on the outcomes for students, research, society. That’s the satisfaction of this job – what feeds our souls and keeps us doing this work year after year.”

Manage for flow. As a manager – especially as a team of managers – you have the unique ability to eliminate friction that frustrates your people and slows their success. Almost every advancement team has collective sticking points – things everyone wants to do differently but somehow are accepted as ‘how things are.’ Think differently! Bowling Green State’s Robin Stock used the pandemic to listen to what frustrated her team and create a Fix-It List. If you have a process or meeting or expectation that is creating friction and could be made better (what couldn’t?!), invest in making it better. There are few better ways of showing you truly value your people.

Manage for humanity. Know your people. Let them bring their whole selves to work. At the beginning of covid, University of Nebraska Foundation created Quick Connect Focus Groups and conducted a Remote Work Survey that resulted in evolving programs from the personal to the professional. They created groups including Walk It Off, for staff who wanted to stay connected through fitness. Ad hoc all-staff meetings addressed everything from easing the team’s mind about the foundation’s finances to discussing George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter. A Week of Learning featured sessions from investing to running to making the most of Outlook tools. All without new budget. Every employee knew their employer had listened, cared about them, and was dedicated to supporting them, as people and as professionals.

With hashtags like #ImNotOK going viral and mothers leaving the workforce in record numbers, it seems deeply important to, as USD’s Rick Virgin said, “meet people where they are. Give a real opportunity for dialogue.” Rick calls colleagues who are not direct reports, asks how they’re doing, shares in both tears and celebrations.

Your people are burned out. You may be, too. Could this be your moment, as Adam Grant exhorts us all, to “unlearn and rethink?” To go from “putting out fires” to coming together to create expansion, connection, opportunity? To move from “I don’t have time for this” to “let’s make something amazing here.”