The Value of a Fundraiser

woman holding coffee looking out window thinking about fundraising jobs

By Roger Craver

Almost every sector of the economy is now facing the issue of how many employees will actually return vs. how many will simply opt for greener pastures.

If the financial meltdown of 2008 was the Great Recession, will post-pandemic 2021 turn out to be the Great Resignation?

Virtually every part of the nonprofit sector – from higher ed, to healthcare, to advocacy and social benefit organizations – have historically been notoriously irresponsible when it comes to training, onboarding, promoting  and holding on to fundraisers.

The result of this neglect on the part of boards, CEOs and even the fundraising profession itself has resulted in a turn style of turnover.

“In 2014 an Education Advisory Board Study showed the average tenure of a major gift fundraiser was 18 to 24 months. Five years later, in 2019 a Chronicle of Philanthropy /AFP Study revealed that the situation hadn’t improved; 51% of American and Canadian fundraisers were expected to leave their jobs within 18-24 months. And most disturbing  – 30% of the respondents said they were planning to leave the fundraising trade altogether.”

There’s a variety of causes that drive fundraisers to head to the exits. Over the years The Agitator has explored many of these here and here. In a survey of fundraisers conducted by The Agitator, the reasons range from lack of support from the top to a woeful lack of appreciation. 24% of the respondents said their CEO “treats them like the gardener.”

If dairy farmers and growers managed cows and crops the way many nonprofit leaders deal with fundraisers, there would be an international shortage of butter, milk, oranges and apple juice.

A review of the literature on fundraiser retention indicates that the primary reason for resigning (between 47% and 51% of respondents to various studies) is money.

Although many fundraisers say they’re adequately or even generously paid, that doesn’t stop their eyes –and feet—from wandering off to greener pastures.

How Much is a Fundraiser Worth and How to Calculate that Value

Just how much is a fundraiser worth? How do you quantify that value? What does the anticipated  post-pandemic turnover of fundraisers – dubbed by some the “Great Resignation” – mean for our sector and for specific organizations?

To get the discussion going in your organization or among your colleagues I recommend this thoughtful post on the website of the venerable philanthropic consulting firm Grenzebach Glier & Associates (GG+A). With 60+ years of experience serving top institutions around the world, these folks understand the value of talent and experience more than most.

I suspect that’s why GG+A is featuring Calculating the cost of losing high-performing fundraisers on their blog as helpful guidance for ways to calculate the talent crisis facing most organizations.

Any fundraiser with more than a few years of experience knows that turnover is a major problem in our trade. Yet, precious few nonprofit leaders take the problem seriously or make moves to do much about it. They should. Because even in the “normal” world – whether you’re Amazon, MacDonald’s or Home Depot, the Society for Human Resource Management calculates that the cost of losing an employee comes in at between 80% to 200% of their salary.

The cost for losing fundraisers – particularly those who deal with major and mid-level donors is higher. Just another reason why you should share this GG+A article with the front office and your buddies.

Written by Naveen Vinukonda, Sr. VP for Philanthropic Analytics at GG+A, and David Lively, Sr. Associate VP for Alumni Relations and Development and Campaign Manager at Northwestern University, the article explores ways to calculate the value – and loss — of a fundraiser. Particularly major gift fundraisers.

Using data from a study of 180 major gift officers over a nine-year period, they delve into issues such as how length of tenure affects value and come up with a formula you may find helpful – The Net Fundraiser Value.

This approach may not apply to every situation, but the article gives us all a great jumping-off point to do some of our own analysis within our organization. As you dig into it, I think you — and your board and CEO — will better understand both the direct calamity and the subtle dangers that spring from anything short of paying full attention to the needs, development, and proper recognition and compensation of fundraisers.

As the Great Resignation gets underway, is your organization prepared?

Roger Craver, is an esteemed LAPA colleague, a veteran fundraiser and co-founder of the Agitator.com. You can see Roger and Laurence on this webinar.

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