When Wellbeing and Fundraising are Aligned
Fundraising is hard work, and fundraisers get burned out at an incredibly high rate. We know that fundraisers stay at their jobs on average for 16-18 months, depending on which research you access. We’ve also seen studies that report as many as 51% of fundraisers now say that they plan to leave their job within two years, and of those, 30% report that they will likely leave the sector altogether.
Clearly, that research includes fundraisers at all levels, including development professionals who are still learning the profession. However, some of those surveyed are longer-term, higher level, often major gift-specific fundraisers — and it’s estimated that the cost of losing and replacing a staff person in those categories can be as high as 500% of their annual cost. Here’s a great article — and way to calculate this that walks you through the thought process you should employ when you’re thinking about the “care and feeding” of your longer-term, higher-performing fundraisers. You’ll see that the cost of losing good fundraisers can be devastating to a nonprofit.
So what to do? If we can’t increase their compensation package, there’s not much we can do, right? Isn’t turnover just an assumed risk of any nonprofit?
Not so much.
What if we could help fundraisers enjoy their work more by changing our methodology a bit? What if we added some “secret sauce” to the mix? What if that secret sauce could alter the emotional reaction that both fundraisers and donors get when they’ve been involved in an “ask” — turning it into a “feel good” experience for both parties?
Let’s first look at the donor/volunteer side. As I wrote during the first few months of Covid, the answer lies in years of research into the benefits of volunteering and giving. Both volunteering and giving (or either one) provide myriad emotional and psychological benefits to the volunteer or donor, and, simply said, they create happiness. Happier people — especially when their happiness was facilitated by your nonprofit — are more loyal, more concerned about the health of your organization, and, therefore, more likely to donate (and donate again).
So instead of thinking of fundraising as transactional, think of it as providing happiness. For anyone who has been impacted by or is connected to your nonprofit or your cause, a non-transactional engagement by you is likely to create or enhance a long-term connection — and help these “fans” of your cause become happier.
I’m aware that many fundraisers are taught to think about the happiness they facilitate for donors. Whether as a reminder or new information, it’s important that all fundraisers understand this connection between the facilitation of a gift and the donor’s happiness and well-being.
But here’s the point. Fundraisers deserve feelings of happiness and well-being too.
Nonprofits work hard to stay on mission, and most work like crazy to keep donors on board. It’s unusual, though, to find an NPO that sees their fundraisers as equally important. That needs to change. With the rate of fundraisers leaving their jobs (or the field entirely) only getting worse, we need to do all we can to ensure that fundraising is both professionally gratifying and personally satisfying for the fundraisers.
For the moment, let’s focus on the fundraisers themselves. If this profession isn’t providing personal satisfaction and gratification to these key employees, the health and sustainability of our sector will be at great risk.
This doesn’t include the obvious gap in revenue, nor does it include the loss of fundraiser/donor relationships, which can easily be exponentially higher. We can’t afford to ignore the impact of good fundraisers leaving.
So how do we change the recipe for successful, sustainable nonprofit fundraising to include an emphasis on long-term retention of our fundraisers?
We add the secret sauce.
Take a look at this article called “Emotions in the Workplace”. Happiness, joy, pride, and feeling valued are all critical emotions that most people need to stay in a job. When a fundraiser is trying to convey to a donor that giving is good for their personal well-being, it would be great if the fundraiser believes that for themselves. In the fundraiser’s case, the “giving” is the giving of themselves to their organization’s cause.
Expanding the usual “fundraiser facilitates joy for the donor” paradigm by adding the secret sauce (the fundraiser’s emotional benefit) just might help to right our sector’s boat. This way of thinking will make the new “recipe” one in which three elements are present:
The Organization with its important mission that helps to solve a problem
The Donor who is looking for purpose, personal satisfaction, and joy in giving
The Fundraiser who is putting their passion, soul, and time into work that gives them happiness, joy, pride, and a sense of value
So the next time we’re talking about the emotional and psychological benefits to a volunteer or donor, let’s add fundraiser to that thought. If fundraising feels like a grind — and lacks a sense of emotional well-being — how can a fundraiser, even if they choose to stay at the NPO, authentically communicate all the good things that come with giving?