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Where Is the Love? Addressing the Nonprofit Commitment Problem

James Green, MBA, CFRE
Published:  09/14/2018

In the struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with early career fundraisers, nonprofits have a commitment problem.

First some great news: according to new research from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, nonprofits looking to hire the best possible candidate for entry level fundraising have never had better prospects. There is now an abundance of more affordable training opportunities than ever, and between 1996 and 2016, the number of college-educated fundraisers with a graduate degree increased by almost 9%. The same study also found that more new entrants are coming to fundraising as a first career. The average age of entry into the profession declined from 33.5 in 1996 to 30.5 in 2016, and the median age of someone in their first fundraising job is 27.

So what’s the catch? Unfortunately, as the nonprofit sector enjoys an influx of younger, highly talented, and well trained professionals, those new fundraisers are often not given what they feel they need to succeed. Fifty-five percent of emerging nonprofit leaders believe they need to leave their organizations to advance their careers.

These young fundraisers are making a passionate but calculated decision about where and with whom to spend the incredibly valuable and productive early years of their career. If we want to keep them, we need to show more care, more respect, and a lot more commitment. So, here are some tips for keeping your junior gift officers in love with you a bit longer.


Stop maligning millennials.

We have all heard the stereotypes: “They are self-centered,” “They can’t take criticism,” “They need too much affirmation,” and “They are disloyal and switch jobs faster than other generations.” Not only are these stereotypes untrue, they are destructive to your work relationships and your work environment. If you treat your young professionals with professional respect, they will stop feeling undervalued and start being more productive.


Build professional development and capacity investment into your funding requests.

Funding for professional development and capacity building from foundations decreased by 40% from 1992 to 2011. Buck the trend and treat your fundraisers like the skilled workers they are. Invest in them. Ask funders to invest in them as well. If you give your fundraisers the professional development opportunities they need to grow, your organization will benefit.


Offer multiple paths of advancement.

In Staying Power, employee retention expert Cara Silletto claims you can increase your young talent tenure by providing different paths of advancement. Mentor your fundraisers personally, offer mentorships outside your organization and allow your young professionals to mentor others. While mentorship shows your personal concern for their career, it is also important to provide formal development and training. Your young folks are eager to learn. Taking a caring and personal interest in their professional career can have a dramatic impact on their tenure.


Provide more levels of advancement in shorter periods of time.

According to Silletto, millennials have grown up in a world of instant gratification and quick rewards. This is what they know and it’s often the assumption from which they operate. By rethinking your job levels and titles, providing more levels of advancement and decreasing how long it takes to award the next level of advancement, you could increase how long you hold on to that talented individual.


Diversify your staff.

Though the labor outlook is strong for fundraisers, there are other reasons for concern. Eighty-eight percent of fundraisers are white, and 75 percent are female. And despite the overwhelming majority of female fundraisers, men are overrepresented in leadership roles and earn substantially more money for similar roles.

Our field is growing and we are beginning to see our talent pipeline expanding rapidly. You have a great opportunity to take advantage of these new trends, but in order to fully reap the benefit and potential promised by these eager new fundraisers, you will need to change your organizational culture to help them grow.

NEWS  /10/11/18
The Charitable Giving Coalition’s member organizations, including AHP, conducted a survey in July 2018 to gauge the initial effect of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in December 2017.
NEWS  /01/02/19
The Report on Giving is a yearly survey project that the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy conducts to collect data on health care-related philanthropic activities.

Meet The Author

Jim Green
James Green, MBA, CFRE
Regional Vice President
Mercy Health Foundation

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