Fundraising Professionals: Decorating Your New Office? Don’t Bother. You Won’t Be There That Long!

P6Summary of a 2-Part Presentation for the Las Vegas Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (March 25 and September 23, 2016)

Decorating your new office?  Don’t bother.  Fundraising professionals change jobs on average just 16 to 19 months after being hired, so you won’t be there very long.  Although the days when workers stayed with an employer for many years is a thing of the past, a turnover rate of 16 to 19 months is extremely high.  Even our most job-mobile generation, the millennials, stay in a job about 5 years—three times longer than fundraising professionals.

This high turnover rate is bad for a nonprofit’s bottom line.

Turnover is expensive in general. 

Replacing an employee can cost as much as two times that employee’s annual salary in recruitment costs and lost productivity.  Additionally, it can take six months or more to replace a professional level employee.  When that employee is a fundraiser, development activity grinds to a halt—and the cost in missed development opportunities may be immeasurable.

A tenure of a year and half is too short for effective development activity. 

Stepping into a position that has likely been vacant for six months, it takes newly hired fundraisers as much as a year to get “up to speed” while they build relationships within the organization and rebuild neglected relationships and lost trust with donors and funders.  During that time, they may be able to do little more than gather low-hanging fruit.  Then six months later they are off to a new job, and the cycle repeats itself.

This high turnover rate is bad for fundraisers—personally and professionally.

Changing jobs (even voluntarily) ranks among the five or six most stress-creating life events.

Changing jobs creates a level of stress that ranks up there with getting divorced and experiencing a major illness or accident.  People who change jobs every year and a half are living with a perpetual stressor that can wear them down physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.

Frequent job changes can stall a career.

In the nonprofit world it is often the case that the only way to increase your income or advancing your career is by changing jobs (a problem we will come back to).  When potential employers see a pattern of changing jobs frequently after a short tenure, however, here is what they are thinking:

  1. Since the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior, you probably will not stay with them any longer than you stayed in any of your previous jobs. We just suffered through a “development drought” while we went through a long, expensive and annoying recruitment process—and we do not want to be doing that again a year and a half from now.
  2. If you haven’t been in any one job for even two years, you probably have really just spent most of your time finishing up someone else’s work and going after low-hanging fruit—and probably have not really acquired and developed the advanced skills we need.
  3. Let’s keep looking.

Is it Burnout?

I have no doubt that people in the fundraising profession do experience burnout, but burnout does not sufficiently explain the revolving door trend.  Even fundraisers who report being happy and satisfied in their current positions take part in this ongoing profession-wide churning.

Additionally, I am always wary when people start talking about burnout because the tendency is to treat burnout as the employee’s problem, and therefore solutions focus on how the employee can deal with burnout.  Develop better time management skills.  Get more exercise.  Once the talk shifts to burnout, however, we rarely turn out attention back to what is actually going on in the organization.  And with an average turnover rate of about a year and a half for fundraising professionals, something is going on in nonprofit organizations.   In fact, many factors coalesce to create an environment that encourages fundraisers to move on—but there are steps you and your organizations can take to slow down the revolving door trend.

Compensation:  low compensation is the number on turnoverreason that fundraisers give for changing jobs.

Many nonprofit organizations do not (and some cannot) pay a competitive salary.  The smaller the organization the less able it is to meet its workers’ salary needs.  Additionally, our compensation needs naturally increase over time.  The salary that works for a new college student in a small apartment does not work for a couple or for a family that needs to plan for college and retirement.  All this works towards encouraging you to move from smaller to larger nonprofits that can pay more (leaving smaller nonprofits with less expensive and less experienced fundraisers).

Strategies for Fundraisers

Sharpen your career management skills. 

Given the current “turnover tarantella” in the fundraising profession, most fundraisers should anticipate looking for a new job sometime in the not-too-distant future.  If they want to slow down their participation in the rapid and frequent turnover trend, they should develop the skills they need to make good decisions about their next position.  With improved career management skills, they are more likely to be offered and accept positions in organizations that are a better fit for them—and when the fit is better, they are more likely to stay longer.

 Strategies for Leaders/Managers

 Pay a competitive salary to all employees. 

Easier said than done.  Few organizations are in a position to simply raise everyone’s salaries.  But if your organization does strategic planning (and it should), then that plan should include goals and objectives for bringing salaries in line with industry standards.  It is a matter of fairness, and people like to be treated fairly.  Additionally, when people see there is an actual strategy in place for getting them to fair compensation, that tells them that they are as important as programs and services or the new building that is being planned.  When people feel they are being treated fairly and are important to the organization and its leaders, they are less likely to move on.

 Find other ways to make working for the organization attractive.

Be creative.  Think of things that make the working environment better for fundraising professionals.  Think of things that can save them time.  Think of things that make it easier for them to maintain a balance between work life and personal life.  All these things help eliminate unnecessary stress—and when the level of unnecessary stress goes down, people feel good about where they work.  And when people feel good about where they work, they tend to stay around.  They also tend to be more productive.

Make a habit of acknowledging people’s efforts. 

We all like to know that our efforts matter and that our work makes a difference.  We feel good when those efforts are acknowledged.  Being thanked makes us feel good about ourselves. about our work and about the company where we work.  Letting people know that what they have done matters keeps them engaged, excited and motivated—and engaged, excited and motivated people are more likely to stay around.

Career Advancement:  Lack of career advancement opportunities is the second most often reason given by fundraisers for changing jobs.

Development departments tend to be small with limited opportunities (or none at all) for advancement within the department.  Also, nonprofits tend to have small executive leadership teams; while many development people hope to move into leadership positions—even executive director positions—a small leadership team offers very limited opportunities for advancement within the organization.  Fundraisers quickly realize that if they want to “move up” they have to “move out.”

Strategy for Fundraisers

Be proactive when it comes to your career development. 

Fundraisers shouldn’t wait for employers to provide training and development opportunities.  Rather they should plan their own development program.  This decreases the need to move from one organization to another in order to develop new skills and abilities.   They may still have to “move out” to “move up” but it takes fewer intermediate job changes to get where they want to be.

Strategy for Leaders/Managers

Make a commitment to staff development—even if you can offer little or no actual career ladder to climb—and think of it as an investment rather than an expense.

 The payback of investing in staff training and development is immense.

  • Knowing that an employer is willing to provide training and development makes an employee feel valued—and that breeds loyalty. Loyal employees are not prone to leave.
  • Employee development keeps work from being boring and can keep your employees engaged at work. Engaged employees are more likely to stay around longer.
  • Employee development is viewed as a benefit and helps with the compensation difficulty discussed above.

But the payback goes beyond employee retention.

  • Investing in training and development produces well-trained, confident and engaged employees who are going to do better work in the long run—and that is going to save money as they become more proficient and efficient.
  • Employee development makes an employer more attractive to potential employees. When an organization invests in its people, it attracts the best staff, while offering training, continuing education, conference attendance—or even something as simple as a book allowance—attracts employees who are looking to better themselves.
  • Being committed to employee development improves the organization’s reputation. When staff members do leave to work elsewhere they take the message that they come from a great place to work.

Structural Issues

At some point every organization is challenged by structures and processes that seem to impede rather than support its ability to meet goals and achieve its mission. Simply put, what got them from Point A to Point B in the past no longer works—or at least it is harder and takes longer to get from B to C.  Reporting structures can become roadblocks.  Communication slows and requires a magic decoder ring.  Silos develop inhibiting collaborating and stifling innovation and creativity. New skill sets are needed that no one seems to have.  The structural challenge most often cited by fundraisers as a reason for leaving involves leaders, managers and board members.

Poor leadership and managerial skills drive employees to look for work elsewhere.

When you ask employees what would improve retention rates, in addition to better compensation and more advancement opportunities, they cite strong leadership.  They want leaders who, among other things, can:

  • Communicate well (including the ability to listen)
  • Facilitate change
  • Strategize and connect their people to that strategy
  • Empower people and engage them in decision-making
  • Build trust, bring people together, inspire and motivate people and show appreciation.

These are all skills that leaders can learn and develop.  But it is easy for nonprofit leaders to focus their attention and efforts exclusively on immediate needs and to pay less attention to the systemic issues that ultimately drive an organization’s long-term success. One area that they often neglect is their own development.

Lack of board formation drives fundraisers to look for work elsewhere.

One of the frequent consequences of structural challenges in an organization is a lack of clarity about who does what and how.  That lack of clarity can extend to an organization’s board.  Often board members don’t understand their own role on the board in general and in fundraising in particular.  Many board members do not actually understand how fundraising works, nor do they understand the specific strategies fundraisers use to generate contributions.  They only know that they are supposed to assist with fundraising.

Without a clear understanding of what is expected of them and without training on how to support fundraising efforts, some board members will offer no assistance or support to fundraising efforts at all.  More problematic and frustrating for fundraisers, however, are board members who go off on their own with activities that conflict with the work of fundraising staff.  This independent activity is not just frustrating and stressful for fundraisers; it is frequently damaging to the agency’s development efforts.

Strategy for Fundraisers

 Claim a seat at the board room table.

Be proactive with board development around fundraising.  Fundraisers should push for opportunities to join board meetings to inform board members on what fundraising is, how fundraising and development works, what the current development strategies are and what assistance is needed from board members.

Strategies for Leaders/Managers

Make your own leadership/management skills development a priority. 

Get help in evaluating your leadership and management strengths and weakness—then create a strategic leadership program for yourself.  This requires a certain amount of humility:  you have to be willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers and that there is room for improvement.

Make board formation and ongoing development a priority.  

Create a clear picture of the board’s role, recruit board members based upon needed skills, develop job descriptions for board members, and educate board members on their role.  Incorporate development into regular board processes.  In the area of fundraising, bring in fundraising staff to explain what they do and how fundraising works, their goals and objectives, and their strategies.  Facilitate the building of relationships between fundraisers and board members.

Cultural Issues

An organization’s culture consists of the values, beliefs and attitudes that are operative in the organization.  These operative values, beliefs and attitude may be the same as the organization’s espoused valued, beliefs and attitudes—or they may not be.    It is, however, the operative rather than the espoused that guide behavior and practices and sculpt a worker’s experience.

Fundraising professionals consistently report that their organizations’ attitude towards their development work is not altogether positive.  In some organizations (perhaps even most organizations), development work is perceived as not being part of the core of what the organization is about.  Development work is (regrettably) necessary so that they can do the real work of the organization.

When the culture doesn’t view and value development work as a mission-aligned program of the organization, fundraisers do not stay around very long.  Fundraisers often find themselves isolated and without the support they need within the organization.  When they reach out, they are politely told in a dozen different ways, “It’s not my job.”  They often find they are left out of strategic discussions and parts of the decision-making process—and then find themselves unexpectedly saddled with unrealistic expectations and unattainable goals.  By the way, conversely, when fundraisers are left out of strategic discussions and the decision-making process, organizations miss out on the possibility of fundraisers saying, “Wait a minute!  We can do more than that!”

Strategy for Fundraisers

Work on building relationships within the organization.

A culture of philanthropy is rooted in relationship-building.  Don’t ignore relationships within your organization.  Giving attention to those relationships can help shift people’s perception of and attitude towards development work.

Teach your coworkers about what you do.

Create opportunities—both informal and formal—to help people understand what philanthropy is, what you do, how what you do impacts what they do, etc.  Information goes a long way when it comes to building relationships and partnerships.

Strategy for Leaders/Managers

Start shifting the culture from a culture of fundraising to a culture of philanthropy. 

The most effective organizations embrace a culture of philanthropy.  In a culture of philanthropy fund development is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned program along with the other work of the organizations.  Everyone in the organization—from the janitor to the board chair—promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving, and most people in the organization act as ambassadors and engage in the relationship building that is the heart of philanthropy and development.

Cultural change is unquestionably difficult, but it is not impossible.  Leaders can start by increasing the visibility and involvement of development staff in planning and decision-making—and by setting an example by increasing their own commitment to and involvement in fundraising.  For a full-scale cultural shift, they may need outside assistance.

One Size Does Not Fit All

High turnover among fundraising professionals impacts the success and well-being of nonprofit organizations and of the fundraising professionals who support them.  No two organizations, however, are exactly the same.  What may be behind high turnover in one organization may not be an issue in another.

If the Development Office has a revolving door, and you want to do something about it, take the time to assess and understand your own specific situation so that you can apply the right solution to the problem.  “Random Acts of Problem Solving” only work by happy coincidence and more frequently waste valuable time, energy and resources.  But with the right tool for the right job, you’ll get the outcomes you need faster and with a lot less work!

Kevin P Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.  Kevin currently provide services to non-profit organizations through a partnership with Professionals in Philanthropy.

LinkedIn: Kevin P. Dincher

Posted in Employee retention, Employee turnover, Leadership, Management, Non-profit Management, Organization Development (OD). Tags: , , , , , . Comments Off on Fundraising Professionals: Decorating Your New Office? Don’t Bother. You Won’t Be There That Long!

Micromanagers are like Vampires – They Drain Your Company of its Lifeblood

Kevin P. Dincher

In its 2013 State of the Global Workforce report, Gallup called engaged workers “the lifeblood of their organizations.”  Companies with the highest levels of employee engagement have significantly higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings, much lower turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than their peers and competitors.  If that is true—and who am I to argue with Gallup?—then one of the ways to drain your company of its lifeblood is to micromanage your workers.

Lately I have been hearing quite a bit of  chatter—complaining, really—about managers who micromanage.  Apparently, people do not like being micromanaged.  Top executives and star performers find it insulting, and anyone with any sort of a positive work ethic finds it stifling.  Being micromanaged tells them that their managers do not trust their work or judgment—so they shut down.  They stop making suggestions, and they stop doing their best work.  They put in time but little else.  Moreover, their apathy is contagious, affecting not only their own productivity but also that of their colleagues.  Micromanaged employees easily become disengaged.

In CEOs:  Beware of Micromanaging I borrowed six questions from The Consequences of Micromanaging that managers can ask themselves to get a sense that they might be micromanagers.

  1. Do I spend a considerable amount of time telling employees how to do a job correctly and specifically telling them what to do?
  2. Do I devote a lot of time to overseeing the projects of my subordinates?
  3. Am I irritated when subordinates make decisions without consulting me first?
  4. Do I sometimes wish I were back in my previous lower-level job?
  5. Am I the one who signs the checks?
  6. Am I spending more time with operations then planning my company’s strategy and growth?

If you answer YES to two of these questions, then you are probably micromanaging your employees and may need some help to get out of the micromanaging trap.  But let’s take this mini-assessment a little further.

autonomyLevels of Management and Autonomy

Like many things in life, micromanaging is not all-or-nothing; it is not a case of either you micromanage or you don’t.  There are levels of micromanagement.  Another way to think of micromanagement is the degree of autonomy (and the power and authority that go along with autonomy) that your employees have to do their work.  At one end (Level 1) is total micromanagement; employees have no autonomy at all.  At the other end (Level 5) employees have the highest level of autonomy.

Assess Your Level of Micromanagement

Think of just one routine project that you tasked a staff member or work group with recently.  Do not pick an unusual situation that necessarily demanded a higher than routine level of involvement from you—like work you assigned an intern or a new and inexperienced hire.  And don’t pick some out of the ordinary and highly critical situation.  Stick to something routine.

Now, thinking about just this one routine project, read the descriptions of the degree of management and autonomy operating at each level combination of management and autonomy — and identify which level explains your management of that project.

Level 1

Level 1 is pretty much the zenith of micromanagement. Employees have no autonomy at all. You keep all the power and authority, and you control all aspects of the project. You assign the project, and tell your workers what to do and how to do it. The employees may (or may not) be tasked with doing some research on the project—but they do not make any decisions or have any input into what will be done They report their research to you so that you can identify possible alternative courses of action, decide what will be done, and tell them how the work will be done. You monitor every aspect and detail.

Level 2

Level 2 is slightly, but significantly, different from Level 1. You still hold the power and authority to make all decisions.  You monitor and control all aspects of the project.  However, you allow your employees some input into the decisions you make. The employees do the needed research, identify alternative courses of action and maybe even suggest a preferred one for implementation. You decide which one to implement and how.

Level 3

There is a significant difference between Level 2 and Level 3. At Level 2 employees have input, but at Level 3 they also have power and authority to make decisions.  You, however, retain the power and authority to approve or disapprove any and all decisions before they can act. The employees do the research, and they decide which course of action they intend to take. They report to you—and wait for your approval before taking any action.

Level 4

At Level 4 you take a major step away from micromanaging. At Level 4 you hand over real decision-making power and authority to employees—but you hold on to the power to “put on the breaks” at any time. The employees do the research, report what they intend to do—and move forward unless at some point you say “no” or “stop.”  Of course, things can get very tricky here: your employees need to know ahead of time what might cause you to say, “no” or “stop” as the project moves forward so they don’t find themselves wasting time, energy and resources heading down a blind alley. Better work on those communication skills if you are going to ease up on the micromanaging!

 Level 5

Level 5 is where you really stop micromanaging. You communicate the desired goals and outcomes, the time constraints and the available resources—and then let the employees run with the project. They do the research, develop a plan, take action, and periodically update you on progress. They get help from you when they have questions or when they run into obstacles (because good managers remove obstacles). They give you progress updates, but the project is in their hands. Level 5 is the point where employees feel they have “arrived”. They work on their own and take full responsibility and ownership for their work and projects. They feel that they have earned your trust. They do their best work and are at their most creative and innovative.

One Swallow does not a Summer Make

So, where did the project you were thinking about fall on the scale of 1 to 5? Since you should never assume something is true just because you have seen one piece of evidence for it, select three or four other projects and do the same assessment.  (And, of course, if you are truly serious about getting a handle on your micromanagement, ask some of the people who work for you to do the same assessment from the perspective of the level of autonomy they feel they have when you give them work to do!)

Is there a pattern in your assessment?  Are you generally somewhere in the range of Level 4 and Level 5?  If so, then you are doing pretty well when it comes to micromanaging– and just need to learn who to be more consistently at Level 5.  However, if you are generally in the range of Levels 1, 2 and 3 – well, you need to consider that you may be standing in your employees’ way and need to take a step back so your company can move forward.

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Posted in Leadership, Management, Organization Development (OD). Tags: , , , , . Comments Off on Micromanagers are like Vampires – They Drain Your Company of its Lifeblood

Why Organization Development? It’s all About Organizational Health.

Kevin P. Dincher

I recently attended a networking event that included both “front line” professionals and senior level executives.  Regardless of whom I spoke with, my self-introductions as an Organization Development consultant met with the same three responses.  A few asked, “How long have you been in HR?”  A handful of others wanted to know what training I specialize in.  The most common response however was the glassy-eyed smile that said, “I don’t know what that is—but I am too polite to say so.”

I am not surprised when business professionals and decision-makers don’t know what Organization Development is.  Saying this won’t make me popular in OD circles, but we OD practitioners do a poor job of explaining what we do.  Sometimes we tell you that OD is just “HR on steroids.”   Most frequently we try to sell you solutions—splashy tools for team-building, leadership development or communication skills training.  At best we make claims about change management and call ourselves change agents.  Oddly at times we just decide not to tell you what we do; it is amazing how often someone on one of the online OD discussion groups I belong to advises not explaining what OD is because it just confuses you!

When we can’t (or won’t) explain OD, when we equate OD with HR, or when we focus on selling tools and pre-fab solutions, then we fail to offer you and your company the one thing of unique value that OD has to offer:  improved organizational health.

Organizational Health:  The Competitive Advantage

In The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business,  Patrick Lencioni explores the advantages that organizational health provides.  Healthy organizations are better places to work, and they consistently outperform their peers. They are more profitable and have higher levels of growth and customer retention. Over the long-term, healthy organizations are more sustainable.

Lencioni describes an organization as healthy when it is “whole, consistent and complete, when its management, operations and culture are unified.”  Simply put, everything fits.

  • You know why your company exists—and so does everyone else in the company.
  • You have the right people in the right jobs—and they know what their jobs are, know how their jobs fit with other jobs in the company, and how their jobs contribute to your company’s reason for being.
  • Everyone knows what success looks like and what is important for achieving that success—and everyone has the tools and resources they need to succeed.
  • People, structures, processes and culture all work together to move your company towards achieving its reason for being.
  • Relationships and communication—both inside your company and between your company and any outside stakeholders (customers, clients and vendors)—work in ways that help you reach your reason for being.

Healthy organizations may be more profitable, but Lencioni is right when he says that achieving organizational health “requires real work and discipline, over time, and it must be maintained.”  Achieving organizational health is not easy.

This is Where OD Comes In

At its core OD is about working with you to improve the health of your organization.  When OD practitioners are really doing OD work, here is what they do.


  •  Assessment/Analysis:  First an OD practitioner works with you and your employees to gather information about your organization and then analyze the data collected.  Genuine OD work is always data-driven.
  • Diagnosis:  Then an OD practitioner works with you to review the data and analysis to help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your organization—where things “fit together” and where they don’t—and then to help you identify your goals for becoming a healthier organization along with what resources are needed and available.


  • Treatment/Change Plan:   Next you and the OD practitioner work jointly to define a specific, detailed plan of action that capitalizes on your company’s strengths, addresses weaknesses and moves you toward your goals for becoming a healthier organization.  The “Treatment Plan” will include a wide variety of elements—possibly process improvements, cultural changes, or even some of those glitzy tools for team-building, leadership developing, communication skills training or diversity improvement that consultants are always trying to sell you.  A successful plan requires two things.  First, everything in the plan must be data-driven.  You don’t do something just because it is trendy or because you read an article in a magazine on a plane.  Second, the OD practitioner must have a grasp of the change process and change management.  Remember:  70% of change efforts fail (Kotter, ” target=”_blank”>Leading Change).
  • Implementation:  Then you, members of your organization and your OD practitioner work together to implement your plan.


  • Evaluation:  Throughout implementation and afterwards, an OD practitioner works with you to evaluate what is happening.  Is your company actually changing?  Is your company learning?  Are the changes actually improving the health of your organization?  What more is needed?  This keeps you from getting off track, allows you to capitalize on success, and enables you assess ways of further improving your organization’s health.

That’s what OD is and what OD practitioners do when they are really doing OD—helping you improve the health of your organization—and not  just offering you programs and solutions.

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Posted in Organization Development (OD). Tags: , , , , , . Comments Off on Why Organization Development? It’s all About Organizational Health.
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