How the “Great Resignation” Can Bring Out the Best in You and Your Nonprofit
When I get phone calls from clients with staffing emergencies, my usual first response is to tell them not to panic. After all, nonprofits know how to be resourceful in the face of adversity and have been doing “more with less” throughout the history of the sector.
“Don’t panic” remains good advice, but recruitment and retention have become even more challenging in the jaws of the so-called Great Resignation. An Achievers Workforce Institute survey finds that more than half of employed workers plan to actively job hunt this year, and a Dickerson Bakker study reveals, “Today’s severe and worsening shortage of qualified fundraisers poses a major threat to the future of many nonprofits.” Whether the pandemic, a generational shift, or a combination of factors is driving the trend, the movement toward the exits may be hard to explain, but it’s not hard to miss.
There’s no question that organizations need people (robots aren’t fundraising—yet) and that the “more with less” mentality can diminish innovation and achievement in the long run, but there is encouraging news, too. Nonprofits with top-notch fundraising talent already have the tools to recruit and sustain a top-notch team, for the simple reason that fundraising skills translate well to recruitment and retention. Think about what major gift officers excel at, and then compare those traits to what it will take to find talented staff and keep them on the roster:
- Do your research. Before a gift officer engages with prospects, they conduct research to find out everything possible about that person —from where they went to college, to their religious and personal affiliations, to their tastes in food and music. The point isn’t to enumerate these facts over coffee but rather to familiarize yourself with their motives and to keep them in mind as the conversation naturally drifts toward the organization and how to support it. By the same token, when you recruit candidates, you want to learn as much as you can about them before the interview, and once you bring them aboard, you want to study them as thoroughly as you would a new donor.
- Listen carefully. The best gift officers are great listeners. It’s more than remembering a donor’s kids’ names. It’s a way of showing them they matter to you. You want to ask thoughtful questions and take note of the answers. Staff surveys are a great way to ensure that value employees attribute to compensation and benefits is in line with their cost to the organization.
- Pay attention to generational trends. Everyone’s an individual, but generational trends suggest, Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z look at philanthropy differently and choose different ways to support causes they care about. They have different expectations from an annual gala—from venue to menu to entertainment. Smart gift officers keep current with the latest research on these variances. Similarly, nonprofit executives should take heed of research findings such as the fact that Millennials value travel and work-life balance almost as much as salary, and that some experts recommend providing Gen X hires with assistance on things like housing and personal finance.
- Treat staff with appreciation and respect. Anybody who’s been in this field for a while has probably witnessed or even experienced this particular colleague. They act one way with donors and another with employees. At events, they’re charming and gracious, but back at the office, they’re impatient and imperious. My simple advice at this moment is: Don’t be that person. It wasn’t okay in the past, and these days, when you can’t afford to lose staff, it’s positively counterproductive. Kindness matters as much with colleagues as it does with donors.
- Keep the mission in mind. Regardless of your organization’s area of focus, the mission should be front and center in every annual appeal, acknowledgment letter, luncheon, or virtual lecture. The urgency of your cause bonds you with your donors by giving you a common purpose. That same passion should be unleashed in your Idealist or LinkedIn listings, during the interview process, and throughout your interactions with employees, and this rule applies to accountants, IT staff, and administrative assistants as well as for your frontline fundraisers. The mission is what makes a team, a team.
Remember the ending of The Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard tells Dorothy’s companions that they already have the brains, the heart, and the courage they’re seeking? It’s the same with you and your nonprofit, and it doesn’t take a wizard to see that. You’re a great fundraiser? Then you’ve got this.
About the author
Shaby T. Rosales brings extensive corporate and nonprofit Human Resources experience to her role as Vice President of Orr Group’s Human Resources and Head of Outsourced HR and Recruitment services. In addition to her HR responsibilities, Shaby leads the firm’s DEI initiatives, focusing on creating an organization-wide environment of sustainable inclusion, equity, access, and belonging. Prior to joining Orr Group, Shaby served as Vice President of HR at Congressional Bank, where she led the bank’s philanthropic initiatives, including strengthening their Corporate Social Responsibility programming and supporting nonprofit organizations through corporate giving, volunteer activities, and company-wide fundraising efforts.