Learn more about analytics and research best practices, as well as real world examples and solutions for nonprofits.


May 15, 2018

3 Steps to Improve Development Staff Retention

Our last blog (here) generated quite a few comments – though because of the sensitivity of the topic, most comments came directly to me rather than being posted publicly on our blog’s website. Thanks to all for sharing their thoughts.

I’ve boiled down the comments into three steps that any nonprofit organization can take to drastically improve the retention of their development staff:

1. Always include your development staff in discussions when setting revenue goals.

There are two clear reasons for this. First, if the organization wants the development staff to own the goals, they need to be part of the process. Revenue goals mandated from above will never be owned.

Second, the development staff has the best handle on donor performance trends, and they know what the file can actually generate. Donor files are like actuarial life expectancy data that life insurance companies use to set premiums. Creating goals without using this knowledge is setting the organization up for failure.

2. Any revenue goal increase must be accompanied by a corresponding increase in the development department’s budget.

“Ex nihilo nihil fit” (from nothing nothing comes) is a philosophical thesis first argued by Parmenides. Translated into our context: “You won’t raise more money if you don’t spend more money.”

It never ceases to amaze me how many nonprofit organizations increase revenue goals without increasing development budgets. Nonprofit organizations, this is totally demoralizing to development staff. Stop it.

3. If your nonprofit organization is going to hold the development staff accountable to achieving the revenue goal, then the development staff must have total autonomy over how they spend their development budget.

This seems like a simple concept. Yet, many development professionals reported that this is not the case at their organizations. Too often, their development budgets are cut “from above” while their revenue goals remain the same. Again, totally demoralizing.

To sum it up, the nonprofit organization that treats their development staff as professionals who are key partners in the fulfilment of their mission will not only see improvements in staff retention, but also in fundraising performance.

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