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Finding the Talent to Meet Demand for Development Professionals in 2014

Posted: 1/28/2014

Nonprofits will see transitions in 2014. Where will you find the talent to meet demands?

Turnover rates in nonprofits have held steady at about 17% (that equates to about 1 in 6 positions) for the past few years. Smaller nonprofits have seen higher turnover rates, generally around 25%.

As the nonprofit sector grows with the number of nonprofits nearly doubling in the last 10 years, competition for philanthropic support has obviously increased as well.

Development job positions remain open for an average of at least six months. Openings have been on the rise in an increasingly demanding field as organizations seek the proven records that come with seasoned development professionals to assure leaders of results from the organizations' significant investments in this skilled labor pool, essential to a successful bottom line.

Penelope Burk, a Chicago-based fundraising consultant, estimates it costs 65% to 83% of a fundraiser's annual salary to replace him or her. In addressing an AFP conference last year, she also agreed that turnover among fundraisers will increase as the economy improves.

According to a recent AFP polling, those leading the hiring say that "the issue isn't a small pool of candidates, but a small pool of qualified candidates. Asked about the last time they tried to hire a new development director, more than half of executives (53%) said the search produced an insufficient number of candidates with the right mix of skills and experience."

The data supports what we all know. Development positions are critical and good development leaders are hard to find and keep!

So what is a nonprofit to do?

  1. Have a clear understanding of the organization's personnel needs. Just because a senior program officer has left does not have to mean immediate replacement of another similar position. Take inventory of staffing patterns and determine what is necessary.
  2. Engage the board of directors in the search process. While board members do not manage, they should have a place at the table when it comes to helping to identify talent and possible candidates for the position.
  3. Extend searches for candidates beyond the nonprofit marketplace to include the pool of qualified candidates from the for-profit sector . Using laid-off employees for volunteer service is a great example of how to identify corporate professionals that also have a passion for the cause.
  4. Be willing to prioritize skills over experience. Nonprofits tend to get stuck on their expectations for a candidate's direct experience in fundraising, and miss out on a pool of talent with transferable skills, such as relationship-building skills from sales roles.
  5. Grow your organizational capacity. Don't be afraid to consider potential within the organization. Provide training for motivated and talented staff with opportunities for advancement. Investing in the staff you have costs less than recruiting new staff and boosts retention.

The following words of advice written by CapDev President, Allan Burrows, in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, still hold true: "Nonprofits are asked to do more with less in these economic times. Just like corporate America, we may see times when positions remain unfilled and current staff asked to do extra work without extra incentive. At the same time, these times offer great opportunity to engage new personnel to the sector. My encouragement is for nonprofits to not sit and wait for them to come; nonprofits need to be aggressive and seek the talent they need to fulfill their worthwhile missions."

"Demand is strong for fundraising positions, and we've experienced a large influx of people new to the profession, especially younger fundraisers, who have a wide disparity in skills and experiences," said Robbe Healey, a former chair of AFP. She agrees that more work needs to be done in educating and training fundraisers new to the field. "There's no doubt that [we] need to cast a wider net to reach out to different fundraising demographics, and new practitioners need to understand the importance of receiving continuing education and training."

As a search firm serving exclusively nonprofits, we challenge our clients to not accept only the traditional basket of apples as your candidate pool, but let us also provide you with a pomegranate to consider as you face your next transition.

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