A Leadership Crisis

If you knew more than half of the people you work with were planning to leave their jobs, would you be concerned? That sort of news would definitely give me pause.

Currently, we face that very crisis in the field of fundraising – a crisis of leadership. A recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy states that 51% of people involved in fundraising say that they will leave their current job within two years. The turnover of professional fundraisers is at an all-time high, and job satisfaction is at an all-time low. What’s going on?

While the statistic is alarming, it rings true with what I see and hear as I talk with the staff at many non-profits. The article indicated that these fundraising professionals were planning to leave their jobs because of several key issues:

  • A lack of support from top leadership
  • Being assigned unrealistic goals
  • Not having enough resources to carry out the work properly
  • No possibility of career advancement/no succession plan
  • Inadequate compensation

Most of these concerns center around the leadership needed to accomplish fundraising goals. During my career, I’ve been part of dozens of different development departments. I’ve run some myself, and currently through my work with The FOCUS Group, I often find myself helping to fix broken ones.

Early in my career, I ran into the same set of problems. I was absolutely passionate about the organization I was working for, but the goals set for me were unrealistic and not based in reality. These goals were based on what the organization needed me to raise to make their budget, rather than on what the donors could give. Through hard work and God’s grace, I usually ended up hitting my goals, but I remember feeling alone and unsupported. Ironically, rapid turnover saved me, allowing me to rise in leadership and become the boss. I had five bosses in my first five years in development. I felt like I was on Survivor and I had won (but where was the $1M?).

How do we break this cycle of negativity and staff turnover in development, which, as the article points out, evidently hasn’t changed much in the last six years? How do we keep our passion for the good work we are doing and prevent ourselves from (understandably) burning out?

Most of us have the wrong answer to this question – we think that the solution is to quit our job. For most of us, we do not need to leave our job; we need to approach our jobs differently.  A huge part of where we are going wrong is that we try to do it alone. Fundraising must be carried out relationally by both staff and volunteers working together in community. Whether you are the CEO or the one-person development department of your organization, we need to build a community around the work we’re doing. Only then will people be willing to share the burden of raising the resources needed to accomplish our mission. Fundraising alone, and more generally doing life alone, is not what we were created for.

To be successful, we must evaluate ourselves honestly: Are we trying to fundraise alone? Have we sought out others and invited them to be part of our team? If you are in fundraising and doing it alone, you are most likely one of those people saying they can’t make it much longer.

As I think about my current clients, the ones who are most successful with the most satisfied staff have all taken the time to invest in each other. All of them have built volunteer leadership teams around the fundraising goals. As you know, building this team is a key part of Taking Donors Seriously – it’s one of the five fundamental elements! It is essential, not only for the success of your organization but also for your own personal satisfaction.

If you want to hear more about this story, listen to the Taking Donor Seriously Podcast where I further explain this story. 

If you feel stuck, alone, or discouraged with your fundraising, or if you would like more help with building your volunteer fundraising team, I want to invite you to join me for a free webinar on October 3rd, from 4-5pm:

“How to Form and Find People to Serve on Volunteer Development Teams”

Click here to register for this free webinar.


  1. Nicely said! Cool “call to action” at end….listen to the podcast and /or register for the webinar ‘

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