Revolving Doors and Musical Chairs

Have you ever noticed when you read the job postings in the CNRG Digest, that you will often find openings for the same development positions at the same organizations once every year or so?  I have.

The other day, I received information that there was an opening at one of the two nonprofit organizations in Portland that I would most like to work for.  I admire the mission of the program and the philosophy of the founder.  I had met previously with the Development Director in the recent past, so I sent her a message via Linked In, and then I filled out the application, wrote a cover letter to the Director, and faxed my application materials.  Moments after I submitted my materials, I got a message back from the Development Director saying that she had left the organization the previous week.  She had been with that organization for just over a year.

Back in the late 90’s, I joined the Board of Directors of a local nonprofit agency.  I served the organization for two three year terms.  During my tenure on that Board, the organization went through four different Development Directors.  These people were not dismissed or laid off.  They chose to leave.  Some got their experience to put on their resumes and moved on to other organizations, while some went into different fields of employment for better pay and benefits.  This is not uncommon and it happens in many nonprofit organizations.

According to a recent blog by Ian Adair, a fundraising professional in Olympia, Washington, development professionals move on after eighteen to thirty months on the job.  Ian lists some of the possible reasons why this may occur on his blog. I, personally, find this a rather disturbing trend, for whatever reasons the individuals may have.  Turnover and the inevitable candidate search are expensive.  It also costs the organization donor relationships, and the new hires have to go back to the beginning and start again.

I remember going to a panel discussion of Development Directors at some large organizations that was held by Willamette Valley Development Officers a few years ago.  Several of the panelists suggested staying with the organization for a limited time and then moving on to another organization.  In fact, if I remember correctly, one of the speakers was transitioning to an organization that one of the other speakers was leaving.  This is common in the nonprofit sector in Portland.  Generally, Development Professionals will bounce from organization to organization around town, and really don’t put down roots.

Maybe I am old fashioned.  I am at the tail end of the Boomer generation and grew up with a father that stayed with the same company for over thirty-five years. With the exception of being a job hopper when I was a preschool teacher in my early years, (usually due to money), I have always tried to stick around with my employers as long as possible.  The idea of moving around a lot is something that doesn’t really appeal to me.  I want to work for an organization with a mission I can be passionate about, and help it continually grow and succeed.  There are many things I am passionate about, like children’s issues, certain diseases that have affected my family or friends, education, certain conservation issues, homelessness, domestic violence etc.

For me, development is a calling.  I can’t raise money simply for a paycheck, or for something I am not personally connected to, just like I can’t sell a product I don’t believe in.  There are some who see fundraising as a job and do it for the money, just like there are some sales professionals who can sell whatever product their employer makes, regardless of the quality.  For them, it is all in the numbers.  It just doesn’t work that way for me.  However, if the cause is something I can fully support, I will bend over backwards to find new ways to recruit new donors, increase greater gifts from supporters by helping them find their passion for the mission, motivate the Board to do more to increase their support and bring in new donors through their network of friends, families, and business associates.  That is how I am.

To be fair to those in the development field, it is not always their choice to leave.  Sometimes Boards don’t understand that it takes time to cultivate the relationships to fruition.  They have high expectations and sometimes fundraisers can’t open doors and wallets quickly enough to suit Board members with little knowledge of best practices and donor centered programs like major gifts and planned giving.  Other times, new fundraisers don’t get the training they need for a diverse development program.  Having a bad economy and greater competition for donor money doesn’t help matters.  If the amount of money raised is not to the Board’s expectations, regardless of the reason, the development professional is shown the door.

To read Ian Adair’s blog for more information, follow the link.  I greatly suggest it.


About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email or reach him on @ggfundraise
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