November 13, 2017

Development Dilemma: Retaining Fundraising Staff

In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to

This week’s question will be answered by Marilyn Foster Kirk.

The Dilemma

As a Board member, I’m interested in knowing what our organization can do to minimize what seems like constant turnover in our fundraising director position.

Marilyn's Response

First of all, let me say that your organization is not alone. The high turnover rate among nonprofit fundraising professionals is widely documented. There’s also significant research that identifies many of the causes: fundraising is inadequately funded, Boards and CEOs abdicate their fundraising responsibilities, salaries are not competitive, the fit between fundraiser and organizational culture is incongruent, and expectations--too much, too soon—are unrealistic.

There are three areas where your Board and Executive Director, acting as a team, must assume organizational leadership to address this problem: recruitment, engagement, and retention of a properly qualified fundraising director.

Recruitment. There are some very important steps that you and your Board colleagues should take before actively recruiting a fundraising director. These include having (1) a thoughtful and clearly defined organization-wide, long-term fundraising strategy; (2) agreement about the roles Board members and the CEO will assume to execute the fundraising strategy and support the fundraising staff; (3) clarity about what the fundraising director will be expected to do and the relationships the director will be expected to have with Board members and the CEO; (4) and a carefully drafted job description that defines desired character traits and professional values as well as the necessary levels of compatible expertise, experience, and documented achievement.

Once you’ve taken these steps, you and your CEO should agree on whether or not your organization can conduct an effective search or should contract with an external search consultant to do so. While the latter requires a financial commitment, working with an experienced consultant to identify and screen talented candidates may be the better option. Where you seek applicants, how carefully you vet the candidates, and how professionally you handle the entire process sets the tone for the relationship between you and your new director. You want to be sure the search process yields the best possible candidate with the best possible fit for your organization.

Engagement. Once you’ve hired your choice candidate, stay engaged in building and nurturing an effective relationship throughout her/his employment. Initially ensure there is an effective on-boarding process to introduce your new director to your organization’s purpose, people, policies, and procedures. Be sure your organization holds an enlightened view about the importance of fundraising and the role that all must play in building relationships with donors. Actively endorse fundraising and support on-going professional development of the director through both internal and external opportunities.

Retention. Keeping great staff requires on-going investment. As in all relationships, you must nurture the relationships among the fundraising director, Board, and organizational staff. Cultivate a proper organizational culture and provide sufficient resources for fundraising. Value your director’s professionalism and reward his/her contributions with fair and competitive compensation. Agree on performance goals and set dollar goals collaboratively. Have frequent and candid conversations about everyone’s contributions—not just the fundraising director’s--toward meeting goals.

Effective fundraising is a team responsibility involving the whole Board, the CEO, the program staff and the fundraising director. Value the importance of fundraising as one of many functions that advance the organization’s mission and accept that time is essential to build the relationships fundamental to success.

Written by

Marilyn Foster Kirk, CFRE

Marilyn Foster Kirk, CFRE, is Executive Vice President at TWB Fundraising.


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