2016: Invest Anew In Your Fundraising Staff

By: W. Milton Key, Jr., Partner

I recently attended a luncheon that featured two generations of a remarkable, humble family that has earned the reputation as a leading philanthropic family in Dallas.  The family patriarch stated in his remarks to the audience that the dictionary definition of philanthropy is antiquated, in his opinion.

Based on his years of experience as a board chair, board member and donor to many local, regional and national nonprofit organizations, the patriarch said he has come to believe the more accurate definition of philanthropy is that of a contact sport, requiring those in the field of fundraising to have tremendous discipline, a keen sense of understanding people, and the ability to communicate effectively, among other demanding attributes.  He and his family cited several examples of the vital role professional fundraising staff has played in their success as volunteers and in helping them better understand their own capacity for being more financially generous than they anticipated was possible for them.

As in any demanding profession tied to high stakes, professional development for fundraising staff is important.  If you’re a CEO or a fundraising leader, you may well be currently immersed in your annual operating budget for 2016, performance evaluations, or setting personal markers for your professional achievements in 2016.  Whether these are buff or ruff times for your organization, there may be no better time than now for you to make or increase that investment.  If you’re looking for some points of justification:

  1. ROI – The cost of an annual professional membership or the cost of attending or sending a team member to a conference can amount to pennies on the dollar, when put in the context of an annual fundraising target. When applied, the knowledge gained can likely be tied to additional revenue or cost savings.
  2. Compensation – Perhaps a raise isn’t in the cards next year, even for your top performers. Offer them a professional development opportunity during 2016, as an encouragement for a job well done and to help them further develop knowledge and skills that can have a direct impact on their fundraising results.  (Look for opportunities early in the year, so they will have plenty of time to apply what they’ve learned in 2016.)
  3. Retention – A few years ago, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on a survey of 2,700 development directors and CEOs. More than half of the respondent development directors planned to leave their jobs within two years or less.  Also, more than half of the CEOs reported that they couldn’t find well-qualified people to run their fundraising staffs. Making professional development opportunities available to your fundraising leaders and staff may not be the “silver bullet” in this regard, but it will strongly signal support, encouragement and a desire for your team members to grow in a meaningful, tangible way, which will likely keep them producing results for you longer than would otherwise be the case.
  4. Culture – Results from the same survey revealed that many of those 2,700 organizations lacked a culture of philanthropy. Investing in professional development can send a signal to your fundraising team that their work is highly valued.  It can also raise awareness throughout your organization of the value placed on fundraising.  Finally, it can be a signal to fundraising professionals outside of the organization of the value that your organization places on their work.

Professional development opportunities can come in the form of association memberships that offer local meetings, webinars, mentor programs (Association of Fundraising Professionals, Council for the Advancement & Support of Education, National Association of Independent Schools, Association of Healthcare Philanthropy, to name just a few); local, regional or national conferences; participating in classes offered by your local nonprofit management center, college or university; or, bringing an expert into your organization for a customized learning experience.

Make 2016 the year of investing in professional development for your fundraising staff, as part of your strategy to increase productivity, results, retention and understanding of the role philanthropy plays in the success of your mission.