Part 2: Tips for Retaining Development Professionals

Part II: The Role of the Development Professional

In my last blog, I talked about the recent study for the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Association of  Fundraising Professionals that followed up on early research conducted by Penelope Burk. That study found such widespread dissatisfaction that more than half of current development professionals plan to leave their current job and nearly one third plan to leave the profession by 2021. That blog post talked about ways that organizations can better support their development staff.

In Part II, I talk about how development professionals can help the organization better understand the important role of development to improve their job satisfaction (and raise more money!)

1.     Talk about donors and the profession respectfully. I had a former coworker who joked that people covered their wallets when he walked into a room. Such a denigrating view of the profession casts us as beggars or, worse yet, thieves. Do you talk about “getting” a donor? “Landing” a gift? Or “Helping a philanthropist find his or her personal joy by investing in your mission?” Language matters. How you talk about your job, profession and organization determines how others see you, your job and profession. Talk about (and treat) yourself, your role, and your donors respectfully, and you will begin to see that kind of respect returned.

2.     Correct others’ misperceptions of your work. Does your executive director or board insist you treat major donors like ATM machines, looking for expedience over relationship building? Respectfully educate them on the realities of effective fundraising. Likewise, if they commend you for “landing the big one,” take the compliment – and then ask them to stop referring to your donors as fish.

3.     Educate yourself. Many organizations – especially smaller nonprofits – have very limited professional development budgets, both in terms of money and time. First, advocate for a larger professional development budget by demonstrating the ROI of investing in you professionally. Then, take advantage of that budget by attending seminars, webinars, and networking opportunities. Second, tons and tons of free and low-cost resources and professional development opportunities exist, including right here on this website. A quick Google search of “free fundraising resources” returned 99 million results!! Also check out your local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals or Grant Professionals Association; they may also offer free or low-cost educational programs that you can attend. Then carve out the time to attend or read the article or blog post. Investing your time this way will reap many benefits to you and your organization in the long-run (and short-term!).

4.     Educate your organization executives and board. If they have unreasonable expectations or unrealistic goals, calmly explain to them a more reasonable expectation or goal and why you cannot reasonably attain their goal. Use reason, data, and fundraising literature to demonstrate your point. When you can tell them, “last year we raised $5,000 from individual donors and, looking at our prospects, I can reasonably see another $10,000 next year if we can invest in this and that,” it demonstrates your knowledge and willingness to work with them. It also makes you not sound whiney or like you don’t want to work hard.

In short, to improve your satisfaction with your current work environment, you have to advocate for yourself, your donors, and your profession. If you can do so calmly and from a position of knowledge, hopefully you can educate your executives and board and begin to change the culture in your organization toward a culture of philanthropy.