What does a new fundraiser need to know as they begin their career? What skills can they practice to help ensure professional success? What personal qualities should they sharpen to help them deal with the emotional ups and downs of working in the field of philanthropy?
Unlike many other professions, there is no clearly path, educational or otherwise, that fundraisers can take to enter the profession. And this lack of standardized education is a strike against early-career fundraisers. The turnover rate for development professionals is high. Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, estimates that fundraisers stay and average of 16 months in any one position. Some leave to take new, more promising fundraising positions, but others leave the profession entirely, including those who fear they don’t have what it takes to be successful.
This high rate of turnover is costly in many ways. Relationships with donors and other external and internal stakeholders are cut short. Trust in the organization can stagnate or decline. The ability to advance the important mission of the organization gets constricted. And the monetary cost of replacing exiting fundraisers is enormous; various studies put it at between 90% and 300% of the person’s salary, benefits, and expenses.
Clearly, our industry needs to do all it can to develop and retain talented fundraisers.
As a global leader in research-based professional education in philanthropy, Advancement Resources turned its attention to uncovering how best to support those entering the profession. Through a series of focus groups and targeted interviews with seasoned leaders in the profession, we identified skills and qualities essential for early-career fundraisers. Then, through surveys of more than 150 professional fundraisers of various levels of experience, we were able to determine how challenging those skills are for early-career fundraisers to master.
Our research found:
- The most challenging skills to develop are using the phone to secure donor meetings and handling difficult conversations. (Survey respondents rated confidence in both of these areas at 43.4 on a scale of 0–100.)
- The most important skills to improve are running an effective and efficient donor meeting, handling difficult conversations, and asking for a major contribution.
- Professional qualities—such as tenacity, curiosity, and professionalism—are critical for success in a fundraising career, yet fundraiser confidence scores in a number of these areas were around the mid-point on the 0–100 scale.
- Even the highest rated skills—ones that were least challenging to learn—were rated at only 75 out of 100, indicating a pressing need for better training and onboarding for new hires.
Read the full research summary here.
We uncovered this information, now what?
New hires often have to get up to speed quickly, so we chose an on-demand e-learning platform to deliver instruction and information that can be tailored to the unique needs of the fundraiser. Called Launch, this new series for early-career fundraisers is comprised of 18 separate classes that take the learner on a deep dive into topics that are essential for success. Classes range from exploring and reinforcing personal qualities such as curiosity or grit to helping them master skills such as requesting meetings or making the ask. Participants can also learn about topics that are integral to a high-achieving advancement team, such as fundraising events or volunteer partnerships.
In true Advancement Resources’ fashion, we created dynamic and engaging content that invites the learner to consider the subject from a variety of perspectives. In each class, the participant has the opportunity to learn from a variety of delivery methods and to practice and apply what they are learning. Individuals may purchase a single class for $50 to address an immediate need, or the entire package of 18 classes at a discounted investment of $750 for a more holistic onboarding and training experience. Individual access covers 365 days. You also have the option to make this program accessible to your institution’s entire team through group access.
Making an investment in effective onboarding
Our goals for Launch are twofold: First, to equip early-career fundraisers with the skills and qualities they need to launch a successful career in this noble profession. Second, to provide advancement team leaders with on-demand, robust training to onboard and support new hires in a way that paves the way for a long career in this noble profession.
We invite you to learn more about providing lift-off for your organization’s new fundraisers by giving them the tools to ignite their success as they launch their careers.