There are two alarming trends in the current nonprofit world, and they are profoundly and demonstrably linked. Across the nonprofit sector, the average donor retention rate is about 40% to 45%. That sadly means that out of 100 donors who contributed last year, only 40% to 45% will likely do so again this year. Unfortunately, it’s also several times more expensive to acquire new donors than retain old ones. At the same time, nonprofits are struggling to retain fundraisers and crucial development staff. The average tenure of a development professional at a given nonprofit is approximately 16 months.
Not only is it incredibly costly to recruit, train, and replace new development officers, but there is an incalculable loss in “trust capital” with your donors. You can’t place a value on how much donors appreciate staff that truly understand their stories, personalities, and preferences. The learning curve is steep and long. So what can nonprofit leaders do to combat staff turnoverand improve donor retention rates at the same time? Let’s take a look!
Here are 10 things nonprofit leaders can do (beyond compensation and benefits) to retain fundraisers and ultimately improve their donor retention rates
1. Set stretch, but realistic, expectations.
Especially in the beginning of their employment, many benchmarks beyond gift income must be mutually agreed upon. This starts with the identification and qualification of prospects, and implementation of a robust moves management program in which prospects are being regularly informed and engaged about the mission of the nonprofit. A huge measure of progress should be the number of quality touches a fundraiser has with donor prospects.
2. Reiterate this mindset: It takes a village to increase gift income.
No professional — no matter how talented and skilled — will be able to turn around the advancement environment by themselves. For starters, every professional and volunteer team member can and should be engaged as messengers and enthusiastically sharing the story of the nonprofit with their respective networks.
3. Development professionals must be recognized and respected for their expertise.
Unless the CEO or Executive Director has risen through a development career track, development professionals will know far more about challenges and opportunities in developing resources. Their counsel needs to be heeded in the discovery, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship processes. How many times do well-intending board members or other leaders suggest the answer merely depends on staging a special event such as a gala or golf tournament? Do they fully understand the return on investment of such commitments? Development professionals recognize that personal solicitations, especially major gifts, will expedite the strongest possible returns and must be recognized for that knowledge.
4. Encourage development professionals to have a voice and input in all operations of the nonprofit, especially its vision for the future.
No one else will have as much understanding of what operational decisions will mean to donors and other external stakeholders.
5. Provide maximum flexibility on when, where, and how their duties will be fulfilled.
Good fundraisers spend a big chunk of their week outside of the office to nurture relationships and solicit gifts. Their responsibilities can easily be performed remotely. In fact, a majority of nonprofits have opted for hybrid workplaces in which employees work part time in the office and part time at home. Such flexibility can even outrank pay as a quality-of-life priority.
6. CEOs and Executive Directors need to openly and candidly talk about growth opportunities.
Far too often, fundraisers feel compelled to move on as the only way to achieve greater responsibilities and recognition.
7. Fundraisers must have open and direct access to donors, board members, and others who can open the doors to new prospects and funding opportunities.
Having supervisors serve as traffic cops will diminish both the fundraiser’s sense of self-esteem and capacity to work entrepreneurially to maximize results.
8. Offer fundraising training to development staff, senior administrators, and board members to help demystify the art and science of resource development.
Too many leaders are terrified of asking for gifts. More than anything else this is due to a fear of the unknown, and too many professional and volunteer nonprofit leaders lack actual experience. The reality is that much goes into the process that culminates in successful solicitations. Even those who dislike asking for gifts can contribute mightily by breaking the ice with prospective donors in their networks and then exercising good stewardship in acknowledging and praising the generosity of those supporting the nonprofit.
9. Celebrate victories genuinely and enthusiastically.
Give the whole nonprofit family the opportunity to understand the continuum of how gifts move forward from an initial “nice to meet you” to “many thanks for your gift that will touch, improve, and save more lives.”
10. Know that the return on investment in the fundraising profession is huge.
Of course, there are other factors and criteria that can be added to this list, such as the required infrastructure including updated technology systems and professional development opportunities. As my good friend and colleague, Marv LeRoy, Founder of the Institute for Philanthropic Excellence, puts it: More money means more mission. And when you retain fundraisers, that directly translates to stronger donor retention and more gift income for your nonprofit.
How do you retain fundraisers at your organization?
Jim Eskin's leadership roles span more than 30 years in fundraising, public affairs and communications in the San Antonio area. During his career, he established records for gifts from individuals at three South Texas institutions of higher learning. He enjoys training non-profit boards on fundraising best practices and overcoming the fear of asking for gifts. His consulting practice Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure private gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers and business journals across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which was recently released and can be purchased here.