Some of the most recent literature indicates that the average tenure of a Development Director is eighteen months, and the level of turnover at the junior staff levels isn’t much better.

The following is the third of a 3-part series on ending the churn in your Development Department.

Standard workplace expectations in the United States suggest that employees give employers a requisite “two weeks notice” before leaving their current position and moving on to their next job opportunity. This goes far beyond the world of nonprofit fundraising, of course, but the implications for a development department can be detrimental given the time that it takes to conduct a thorough search and recruitment process. To reach and attract a diverse pool of candidates, and then to interview and hire your next team member, could take several weeks or even months. In the time between the end of that “two weeks notice” and the beginning of your new hire’s employment you risk missing foundation deadlines, letting individual donor communications go unanswered, and even allowing necessary administrative tasks to slip through the cracks – and that’s just if you’re replacing an administrative or mid-level position. If it’s the Development Director who has left your organization you’re missing out on valuable guidance and departmental strategy, and your recruitment period is probably even longer than it might otherwise be.

In the first two posts of this series, we addressed ways to better support your development staff, and increase communication around their goals and other financial expectations. These tools are meant to prolong your staff’s tenure at your organization and reduce the rate of turnover in your development department. Even in the best of circumstances, however, no employee is forever. So how can you better prepare for that inevitable moment when a member of your development department decides to move on to another opportunity? The answer, we believe, is radical transparency.

Most employees, when beginning the search for a new job, hold their cards close to the vest out of fear that if their employer knows that they are looking around, it will put their current position at risk – or at the very least, will make their current work environment uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As the employer, you have the opportunity to change the culture of your organization, and set a tone that encourages and celebrates your staff as they engage in long-term career and life planning.

From the beginning of their tenure at your organization, begin an open dialogue about realistically where the members of your staff see themselves eventually going and how long it might make sense for them to stay with you. Did they accept their current position in order to help them gain a skill set that will eventually propel them into a Director-level position? If that opportunity isn’t going to be available at your organization, how can you help the employee assess when they are ready and move into that role at another organization? Or perhaps their long-term plan involves a move to a different city or state, or a transition to part-time work. How can you collaborate on a work plan that will support both the organization and the employee as they build up to that move?

Being open to these conversations without the threat of negative consequences supports your staff (much in the way that we discussed in the first part of this series), while offering you a much greater lead time for a robust recruitment and hiring process when the moment comes for you to replace that employee.

Radical transparency is a value that we take to heart at Donorly, and it is advice that we have offered to our clients in moments of transition as well. The result is that we see development departments that are prepared to navigate turnover in a way that supports continued research, cultivation, and execution of fundraising strategy, all while supporting team members as they move on to their next endeavors. In some cases, team members who might have otherwise walked away from an organization entirely were even able to find new ways of engaging with their current employer that satisfied their long-term career goals.

Without the willingness to engage in transparent conversations, we might never have discovered those employee retention opportunities. We encourage you too, wherever you are in the lifecycle of your development staffing, to embrace the value of radical transparency.


Photo by foundin_a_attic is licensed under CC BY 2.0