By David A. Mersky
When last we gathered, I wrote to you about the importance of onboarding. This helps ensure that your new hire will be well integrated and likely stay in your employ for a good long time.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all that was required to retain staff was to have a terrific onboarding program? But you and I both know there is more to it than that. That’s what I want to focus on with you today.
Last month, I mentioned that when somebody leaves your employ, the cost to replace them can be as much as three times their compensation in screening, interviewing, vetting, and onboarding.
The costs are even greater at the higher levels. As Penelope Burk notes in her book, Donor-Centered Fundraising, the departure of a senior fundraiser can cost the organization up to nine times their salary in time, resources, and lost opportunities.
How then can we increase retention of our most important hires? How can we enhance the long-term productivity and value for our organizations? (These questions apply to donors and funders as well. But that is a topic for another time.)
Here are four ideas to consider that will enable you to support and motivate your team, enhance their satisfaction, and ensure their retention:
#1. Evaluate Your Organizational Culture
Successful fundraisers look to work in an organization with a mission they can embrace and a culture in which they can thrive. Those cultural issues become even more important in a world where remote and hybrid work have become the norm.
Indeed, a 2022 study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management found that it was rarely salary and benefits that caused employees to seek greener pastures. It was more likely a toxic work culture that led to turnover.
To ensure long-term satisfaction and enhanced staff retention, it is up to you to develop a culture of belonging, inclusivity, and growth, both personal and professional. Senior leadership must set an example of openness and transparency in their interactions with each other and staff, as well as in the characteristics of the organization itself.
#2. Assess the Metrics and Goals by Which You Measure Performance
Organizational metrics are about more than simply evaluating financial progress this year. They must also support and lead staff to increase the value — and values — of your organization for the long term.
Metrics are a means to an end. A singular focus in this area creates unhealthy possessiveness and competition among staff to be the star. Also, it is not good for long-term donor relationships or commitment to the mission, vision, and values of the organization if the only focus is the current dollars instead of the lifetime value of the donor.
Metrics should be designed in a collaborative way and they should help fundraisers understand their role in helping the organization achieve its mission. Look beyond monetary goals and think in terms of goals which also strengthen the donor relationship.
Celebrate milestones achieved collectively as well as individually, making sure that non-frontline staff contributions are acknowledged as enthusiastically as those of your star performers. Recognition in some form, across the board, is critical for retention.
#3. Engage Frequently with Staff Regarding Career Objectives
The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance found that a lack of career growth (in addition to dissatisfaction with organizational culture mentioned earlier) was a significant driver of resignations. Don’t wait for somebody to submit their two-weeks’ notice to have a conversation about what you could do to keep them. At that point, they are already out the door.
Rather, you should have regular conversations. These enable you to engage openly about your staff members’ aspirations and professional development. Also, they provide opportunities for you to signal recognition of their value and contributions. As a manager, it is up to you to ensure that your employees’ skills and preferences align with their responsibilities and expectations. If all you do is play “gotcha” and focus on areas of underperformance, you will simply foster dissatisfaction with you, the organization, and the work itself.
Look for areas in which your staff excels. Personality assessment tools and open conversations can help uncover hidden talents. These conversations then lead to opportunities for growth. By being intentional in aligning people with the roles that are best suited for them, their satisfaction will increase, as will your revenue.
#4. Promote Flexibility
In our post-pandemic world, we have learned that working remotely is often as productive (if not more so) as working in an office. While a fully remote work culture may not be an option, a hybrid one certainly ought to be. The days of having to “punch in” at 9 and out at 5, five days a week, are long gone.
Surely there are times where we want to come together as a team. But even that can be done remotely. The MJA team meets regularly on Zoom with everybody working remotely from coast to coast.
Be creative in thinking about how you can promote this type of flexibility.
Improving Your Bottom Line
By focusing on these four areas, your organization will improve job satisfaction for its most senior fundraisers — indeed, for all staff — and increase retention rates.
You will have created a more supportive and fulfilling work environment, one which will inevitably lead to greater fundraising success for your organization.