America’s nonprofits are facing a critical problem. They’re struggling to find qualified fundraisers — and the consequences could be catastrophic.
Millions of people rely on — and even survive on — the charitable programs offered by America’s nonprofits, a colossal industry that contributes about a trillion dollars to the U.S. economy each year.
Charitable giving is the lifeblood that keeps the heart pumping inside 1.5 million-plus U.S. nonprofits. Who keeps the lifeblood flowing? The steady heartbeat of the nonprofit organization — the diligent fundraiser.
Right now, though, many nonprofits could be in danger of going into cardiac arrest. Great fundraisers are exceptionally hard to find these days — and that means many nonprofits could see their precious “lifeblood” start to drain away.
A Heart-Stopping Challenge
As president of DickersonBakker, I talk to nonprofit CEOs and fundraising professionals all the time. In fact, we recently conducted a comprehensive national survey of nonprofit leaders and fundraising pros to determine their key fundraising staff challenges.
Our survey’s heart-stopper? America’s nonprofits are facing a famine of first-rate fundraising professionals — and they’re very concerned.
Three in every 10 of the nonprofits surveyed reported critical fundraising vacancies — mostly in major gift fundraising, but also in the top job, often referred to as “chief development officer.” A whopping 84% said they’re struggling to find qualified candidates, with almost half saying it’s “extremely challenging or nearly impossible” to find the right fit.
Fundraising talent appears to be hemorrhaging. What should nonprofits do?
The old adage says: “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” I tell nonprofit leaders: “The people who generate money for your cause don’t grow on trees, either! You need to be creative and deliberate in your search for exceptional fundraising talent.”
In the improving post-pandemic economy, it’s going to get even tougher for nonprofits to attract and retain qualified fundraising staff. Nonprofits must grow their talent pools by searching beyond the “regular channels,” especially if they want to engage young professionals in their 20s and 30s who are often cause-driven — a huge asset for successful fundraising in this highly-competitive arena.
Nonprofit leaders should also expand their search for professionals who’ve demonstrated the skill and ability to successfully “make deals” in related fields such as sales and marketing.
And this is the moment for nonprofit CEOs to make sure they’re expanding the diversity of their talent pools — increasing the number of women and minorities in their fundraising teams — as well as investing in their current staff through training opportunities to boost performance, increase job satisfaction, and reduce turnover.
CEO Engagement Vital
Our survey also shows direct CEO engagement in fundraising is essential. The more the CEO and his or her board members are involved in fundraising efforts, the greater the likelihood of success. Fundraisers surveyed gave their CEOs high marks for speaking at events and gatherings, but lower grades for engaging with major donors and actually asking them for donations. Leaders: you need to step up!
Most CEOs don’t come into their roles with much fundraising experience — and, for many, it’s a challenge. Nonprofits need to invest in training and coaching to help their leaders become effective fundraisers and lead the way for their teams.
Of course, it’s crucial that nonprofits know what to look for in the right candidate for any key fundraising position — or everyone will be frustrated and disappointed.
In this current “famine” of qualified fundraisers, I advise focusing on these qualities:
Sellers, not “tellers”: Great fundraisers are always sellers — not afraid to inject emotion and energy into their conversations with donors, and ready to ask for a donation when the time is right.
- Results-driven integrity: Great fundraisers value relationships built on truth, honesty, and respect — motivated by the knowledge they’re making a difference.
- Intuitive, emotionally intelligent, and “donor-centric”: Great fundraisers trust their instincts, “read” others well, and react appropriately to the signals they receive from donors.
- Pleasantly persistent: Great fundraisers are professional and patient, with stick-to-it-ness at the core of their being.
We may be in a “famine” of qualified fundraisers, but there’s an enormous pool of talent out there waiting to be discovered. Keep searching — and don’t lose heart!
— Derric Bakker is president of DickersonBakker (www.DickersonBakker.com), a consultancy firm providing major gift fundraising and talent development services to nonprofit clients nationwide, with offices in Texas and North Carolina.
This article is submitted by Jessica Wood of Dickerson, Bakker & Associates. Dickerson, Bakker & Associates is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.