Rising superstars are easy to spot: They’re smart, driven, and strategic. They listen and learn from their mentors and they regularly seek out new challenges as they work to master current responsibilities. You feel sure they will go places, and you’re thrilled to have somebody like this on your team.

But then, one day, the young star walks into your office and asks if you can speak privately. Your stomach sinks through the floor. She explains that she has found another career opportunity that better suits her goals, and she will be leaving at the end of the month. You say all the appropriate things: You appreciate everything she has added to the team and you wish her the best of luck in her next position. But underneath your numbly calm demeanor, you wonder: What went wrong? Why does this keep happening? And how can I make sure it doesn’t happen in the future?

The high turnover rate in development work is a problem we know all too well. Particularly among the millennial population, development professionals frequently leave positions that aren’t providing them with the opportunities or rewards they want. In some of these cases, the departure of your favorite young fundraisers is unavoidable, but in instances where differences in expectations come into play, insight into the professional desires of millennials may be helpful in anticipating the needs of your young talent.

Career Expectations

A common perception is that millennials demand more money than their experience warrants. But the truth is, they really don’t need more money to stay. What they need is to feel integral to the team. In many cases, salary complaints are symptoms of feeling unimportant and unvalued. This generation has been empowered to believe in themselves, to have a voice, and to expect authority figures to listen to them and help them. When millennials feel like they aren’t important, they become dissatisfied with other aspects of their position.

What you can do:

Make an effort to speak their language. Regular performance reviews, clear and available career path information, and transparent salary information all help millennials see that you are serious about their futures. But most important is giving them a seat at the table. Show them why they are valuable to the team, and why, in the long run, they will be happy they stayed where they are.

Friendly Respect

This generation of professionals is motivated by positive, friendly feelings toward supervisors. Millennials foster loyalty through personal relationships. In other words, if a millennial likes his supervisor, he is more likely to be satisfied in his job. If he never sees the human side of his supervisor, or feels that his supervisor isn’t interested in him personally, he will slowly disengage. When another job offer is on the table, he will have no feelings of loyalty to make him think twice.

What you can do:

Structured mentorship programs, positive reinforcement for work well done, and intentional check-ins will help millennials feel valued. Some organizations hire external coaches to provide mentorship, if they don’t have the resources internally, to provide the supportive relationships this group needs.

Team Collaboration

Millennials love working together and want to collaborate as much as possible. They also want to make friends with their colleagues. This generation tends to integrate their work and personal lives. In organizational cultures of individualism and closed doors, millennials may feel isolated. Likewise, if they perceive that their ideas are not being heard or their contributions are not valued, they will disengage. Show millennials what an important part of the team they are in order to fulfill that need for collaboration.

What you can do:

Create a space where ideas can be shared openly, friendships are encouraged, and teams develop engagement strategies as a group. Some offices have an “open” floor plan that encourages this kind of teamwork. Working together in development work is not only effective for moving donor relationships forward, but also for creating an environment where all team members can learn from each other.


It’s never too late to create the kind of environment in which tomorrow’s superstars feel appreciated and valued. Attack the turnover rate head-on by identifying ways to beat the trends and give your team the motivation it needs.

What does your organization do to ensure retention of your most promising young talent?


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