Best of Web: Fundraising Industry Trends

One of the challenges facing development leadership today is the retention of key staff members. Turnover in development is high. In fact, some would argue it is an unprecedented high. A culture of numbers—dollars, donors, visits, solicitations, etc.—has become the norm and now seems to dominate many of the manager/staff interactions.

Technology has fostered and facilitated this philosophy, which tracks every possible activity value. In many ways, this has made our industry more disciplined—something that can be viewed as being positive. But there’s a backlash brewing.

We frequently hear from high performing staff members saying their managers do not care to hear anything but statistics. These individuals, who were originally hired for their ability to close gifts and form strong and lasting relationships in addition to raising funds for the organization, are left wondering if their abilities really matter.

Since the retention of quality staff is a valued tenet, there has to be more a leader can do to ensure success and retain the best employees! The March 5 CASE Advancement Newsletter featured three articles that should be required reading for every manager: Start With Kindness, A Different Approach to Progress, and Success Requires Trust.

The principles outlined in these articles offer timely insight and direction to anyone who provides supervision or is responsible for leading a team.

Author and entrepreneur Jennifer Cohen, who also writes for Forbes Magazine, is quoted in Start With Kindness. The opening sentence grabbed my attention both for its simplicity and its common sense: “To be a better leader, focus on being a better person.”

Cohen goes on to say there are three traits that leaders should focus on developing: Generosity, Honesty, and Authenticity. She adds, “If you are a leader who is honest but not kind, you will never create the team you want or reach the results you desire. Being a good person has to come from the heart.”

In Success Requires Trust, author Tarra Mitchell who writes for Great Leadership tells readers: “Making meaningful connections is the path to gaining trust.” She advocates improving listening skills through avoiding interrupting, maintaining eye contact, and holding thoughts and comments until the person has finished speaking. Mitchell recommends nurturing a collaborative environment and allowing the team to participate in decision making because these promote buy-in of shared goals.

The final article offers suggestions on how to accomplish changes in character. In A Different Approach to Progress author Marcia Reynolds in Psychology Today Magazine recommends creating habits, not goals: “to create new habits of behavior, your brain needs consistent evidence that your goal is achievable and worth the effort.” She encourages readers “to enlist” the aid of another person to help hold you accountable. “In our practice, we often provide coaching and mentoring to academic and administrative leaders to help them develop effective styles to elicit the very best from their teams.”

John Taylor of our firm is fond of saying, “The right people are out there, and many of them already work for you!”

I worked for some very capable leaders, who inspired greatness, and for others who did not. Upon honest reflection I know there were times that as a manager, I fell in the latter category. I wish (and I’m sure some of my former employees wish) I had read and applied these recommendations.

Doing all you can to retain high performers may mean reflecting on your own behaviors before taking other actions.