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The Great Resignation: How to Retain Your Fundraising Staff

Have you seen massive turnover in your organization in the last six months? What’s up with that? 

If you’re asking these questions, read on to learn about: 

  • New trends in nonprofit employment
  • Groundbreaking facts about the true cost of losing your best people and why they really leave
  • Why higher salaries are in your best interest (hint: you’ll save money, time, and effort)
  • How you can save the planet AND save money

New Trends in Nonprofit Employment

Recent research shows that over 50% of U.S. workers are job searching right now, looking for more flexibility, remote working options, and better pay. 

McKinsey & Company reported that 40% of working people they surveyed (over 13,000 people) are looking to either go into business for themselves or switch industries in the next year. 

This is the Great Resignation. It’s not that people don’t want to work. In fact, nonprofits can give them the work they are seeking. So, if you’re looking to hire next year, you need to know what nonprofit employees expect now and how to retain staff. 

According to Penelope Burk's 30 years of research presented in her book, Donor-Centered Leadership, the average fundraiser stays no longer than 18 months at a job. And that was BEFORE the great resignation! 

Unfortunately, this means nonprofits are losing millions of dollars every year. Want to see proof
One of the biggest takeaways from Burk’s book is that “You get what you pay for.”

Burk shares data from Cygnus Applied Research:

  • When CEOs were asked, “What is the number one issue that caused your preferred candidate for the top fundraising position to decline your job offer?,” 58% of them cited the salary they were offering. 
  • When fundraisers leave, CEOs say 44% said that salary is the number one reason their chief fundraiser resigned. 
  • Among fundraisers planning to leave their positions, roughly 40% were leaving for higher pay elsewhere.

Evidence points to an inescapable conclusion: salary is the number one reason fundraisers leave for another position, or your preferred candidate opts out at the last minute for someone else’s job offer.

Why should you pay more to hold onto a new fundraiser? Perhaps because:

  1. It takes a fundraiser at least 12 months to get up to speed in a new job.
  2. The longer a position is vacant, the more difficult it is for the new person to get up to speed.
  3. Finding, interviewing, and training candidates take time away from other staff—and time is money. 

BOTTOM LINE: DON'T try to get someone for the lowest salary possible. 

13 Dos and Don’ts of the Great Resignation in the Nonprofit Workplace

  1. DO hire someone part-time at a higher pay rate. WHY? Because according to Burk's research, the number one reason good fundraisers leave is for a higher salary.
  2. DON'T hire someone with no fundraising experience just because “We know them” or “They'll take a low wage.” You’ll be rehiring for this role in 12 months, if not sooner.
  3. DO hire someone with fundraising experience relative to your operating budget.
  4. DON'T hire someone without checking what they have previously raised. 
  5. DO hire someone with verifiable fundraising history.
  6. DON'T insist the fundraising person come to the office. If we have proved one thing in the last two years, it’s that we can work from home.
  7. DO let the fundraiser do online community events and safe outdoor donor meetings.
  8. DON'T insist the fundraising person has a degree or can yield instant results.
  9. DO grow and nurture your fundraiser with training, mentorship, and gentle outreach metrics for the first 12 months.
  10. DO NOT ask people to raise their own salary. 
  11. DO be prepared to offer six figures.
  12. Do NOT ask people to raise a significant amount of money in the first two years.
  13. DO ask people if they are getting the training and support they need.

Question Your Assumptions About Work to Retain Your Nonprofit Staff

  1. Fewer days: Who decided five days in an office was necessary? As of April 2022, many U.S. companies are now piloting a four-day work week. 
  2. Fewer Hours: Who decided that an eight-hour day was necessary? In Sweden, a six-hour workday has yielded INCREDIBLE results.
  3. Let people work from home: Why? Because a longer commute is shown to decrease productivity exponentially, according to an Independent article. When people spend significant amounts of time commuting, they have no time to exercise, eat well, or sleep enough. For better work/life balance, working from home allows staff to rest and recharge. This de-stressing is critical to staff health. And, working from home is good for the environment! According to the Guardian, making it possible for employees to commute one less day a week can reduce their carbon footprint by 15%! Plus, you have fewer people in the office, so the need for space goes down! You save money.
  4. Invest in a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) firm with budgeted key performance indicators (KPIs) and outcomes for every manager and senior-level person in your organization. Other staff members take their cues from senior leaders. This can be an incredibly powerful tool to retain staff as your leaders work to uncover the unconscious ways your organizational culture pushes people out.

Extra Credit: Devote a couple of staff meetings to a book club for “Laziness Does Not Exist” by Dr. Devon Price and “Work Won’t Love You Back” by Sarah Jaffe.

Bottom Line: Pay people more, let people work from home, let people work less, ask your employees how you can do better, and then do better. 

Now that you know some ways to stem the Great Resignation, what are you going to do about it? 

If you’re looking for a consultant to help as an interim development person as you search for a new candidate, or if you’re still curious about how you can keep your good people, let’s chat! Feel free to reach out


This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Mazarine Treyz is a nonprofit leadership coach, speaker, and bestselling author of “The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising,” serving people in over 70 different countries. Mazarine specializes in helping nonprofit leaders with fundraising goals through authentic online and offline relationships. As a result, clients have doubled monthly donors, taken their organizations from $10K to $170K in recurring revenue, and created their own global nonprofits. Mazarine has co-founded a nonprofit and has over a decade of experience as a nonprofit fundraiser in small shops. Today, she leads the nonprofit workplace justice movement to create a better nonprofit work culture through her writing, training, podcast, and keynote speeches. Let's Chat:

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