An Open Letter to Experienced Fundraisers

Dear Experienced Fundraiser (15+ years of experience),

I’ve read no less than four articles in the last couple of weeks centered on the high turnover among younger fundraising professionals.

If you haven’t read these articles, let me give you a few highlights:

  1. According to Penelope Burk’s latest research, fundraisers under the age of 30 stayed in their jobs on average only 16 months.
  2. Considering that it takes 10-12 months for most fundraisers to get oriented, this means you are getting only 4-6 months of productive time from your young fundraisers before they move on.
  3. 41% of these fundraisers left for more senior responsibilities.
  4. 38% left for career advancement
  5. Fundraisers who are 30 years old or under are considerably LESS likely to leave for a job of higher pay than their older counterparts.

This is interesting information for you and me.  In addition to this,, did you know that participation in typical direct marketing programs by donors has declined by over 21% in the last five years?

This translates to a reduction in the number of entry-level jobs at the bottom of the fundraising pyramid.  This means that young fundraisers need to gain skills and experience for relationship fundraising (read Major Gifts) MUCH EARLIER in their careers.

Now, here is something that is going to be even harder to deal with. Only 43% of those young fundraising professionals surveyed said they plan to stay in fundraising for their entire careers.  If that holds true, we’re not going to be able to resource our industry with enough qualified and experienced professionals to meet demand.

So, what does this mean for you and me?

It means that we need to be open to changing how we view and manage these young fundraising professionals.  How do we do this?

1. ENCOURAGE and PROMOTE young professionals in their careers.  Generation Y’ers want to tackle the real strategies and complex gifts RIGHT NOW!    Unlike you and me, who thought we needed to put in the years and get a ton of experience BEFORE we dare ask for a promotion, this next generation isn’t going to wait.  Get next to these young professionals, mentor and train them and let them take risks. Give them responsibility…then PROMOTE them and give them even more responsibility.

2. Allow the younger generation to receive professional training.  I know that you probably didn’t get degrees in non-profit management or fundraising (Richard and I certainly didn’t), but this next generation has.  They are out there getting their masters in non-profit management, seeking their CFRE’s and yearning for more professional development.  GIVE IT TO THEM.  Don’t cut this out of your budget.  If you do, they will go elsewhere to receive it.  The best thing you can do as a manager or mentor is to encourage the young fundraiser to increase their knowledge.

3. Let young fundraisers fall flat on their faces.  Did I just say that?  Yes, I did.  I’m sure you have heard of “helicopter parents”.  You know who I mean, those parents who hover over their children making sure they are “safe” and that nothing “bad” ever comes their way.  Well, I think the same thing could be happening with experienced fundraising managers.

You have to let these young folks fail, just like you did.  I mean, think about it, you learned this business by making a ton of mistakes and learning as you went.  I know you never had a class or lesson, but you became great fundraisers because you got real life experience.

Well, you need to let the young folks have some real responsibility.  Why?  Because they will covet the opportunity and they will make mistakes, which will help them learn and become better.

I know all this feels counter-intuitive to you.  You see this younger generation and it may anger you that they have this sense of entitlement. They don’t seem to understand that they need to put in the years and hard work like you did before they move up in the world.

Well, take a deep breath and let it go.

There is a different reality out there.  These young professionals are smart and cocky and they want to do something significant right now.

You can do one of two things:  hold on to your old beliefs about how this all should work, or embrace this new generation with open arms and get rid of your old conceptions and biases.

I promise you that if you can do the latter, you will have happier and more productive young professionals who are willing to work with your organization for many years to come…and really, isn’t that what you want?

Sincerely,

Jeff

P.S. On Friday I’m writing an open letter to the younger generation of fundraisers.  You don’t want to miss it.

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About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
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4 Responses to An Open Letter to Experienced Fundraisers

  1. K Buenger says:

    I have just promoted an under 30 who is in a masters program (we pay) and in charge of an evolving annual giving program. He will have a portfolio and will staff volunteer leadership committees. He is a remarkable employee whose flexibility and tech skills have helped transform the way we do business from circa 1985 to the 2010s. Your advice, for the right employee, is on target, again.

  2. GetYourGrantOn says:

    Nice post. Very interesting ideas about how to manage younger development staff. I really enjoy reading your newsletters.

  3. Adrienne says:

    I really appreciate this post. I am an aspiring fundraising. I live in Manchester,UK and it seems to me that no one wants a junior staff nor invest in one. I learnt the most I could through volunteering and free training – obviously learning just the basics- for more than three years now. Yet finding volunteering position with real challenges is almost impossible, talk-less of paid junior role. Lately I had a baby, which means I am no more able to volunteer and that the work I put in those years was in pure vain which makes me deeply sad.

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