Turnover Troubles?

March 28, 2019 Joe Gianoni

It’s no secret that turnover is a known evil for many social good organizations. What may be less obvious are the reasons why. Maybe you’ve seen the situation first hand – an incredibly passionate individual decides to make a difference and shifts their career to the nonprofit sector, only to be burned out and leave their new role within the first year. They were so passionate for the cause coming into the role, and successful in their career prior to switching sectors, so what happened?

This is where Jason Lewis steps in to provide valuable insight during his interview in episode 89 of The sgENGAGE Podcast, Developing Fundraising Talent. Highlighting some of the ideas and concepts from his book “The War for Fundraising Talent: And How Small Shops Can Win,”Jason cites the initial motivation and the original reasons people come to the sector as a big reason why they don’t stick around. Most people come to make a difference in the world and want to work directly with the children, animals, etc., directly dealing with the cause, but end up in fundraising positions, professionally asking people for money with limited exposure to those they came to help.

So, how can organizations solve this problem?

  • Focus on developing fundraisers rather than hiring and placing fundraisers.
  • Instead of prioritizing hiring people who are passionate about your specific cause, instead prioritize people who have the qualities needed to be a good fundraiser.
  • Keep in mind what brings people to your organization in the first place and help them find roles that connect with their initial drive.


Beware of Arms-Length Fundraising

Arms-length fundraising is term coined by Jason in his book. It is the tendency for nonprofit organizations to get in the habit of using very effective new acquisition techniques that generate high volumes at a very low costs to acquire initial gifts. This is a pattern of behavior where the organization, rather than acknowledging the supporter relationship has gone from being a non-entity to making that first gift, leads to the exchange of a series of trivial gifts instead of investing in that relationship in more meaningful ways. The repeated technique creates a distinctly transactional relationship of diminishing personal value. And not only does it affect your relationships with donors, it can contribute toward low morale in your fundraising team. Here are some ways Jason suggests moving past arms-length fundraising:

  • Don’t get complacent with high volume transactional gifts. Even if the approach seems to work now, you’re likely to see diminishing returns in the coming years.
  • For each campaign and event, consider how you can go beyond the initial ask and make the transaction more meaningful by demonstrating the value of your supporters’ gifts.
  • Make sure your fundraisers have the chance and skills to build relationships with donors and potential donors.


A fundraiser’s job is a difficult one without a doubt, and it’s easy for a person to lose their drive when they lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes passion can even backfire if people feel like they aren’t personally making a difference. Jason’s insights are invaluable to hiring and managing your fundraising talent, as well as a few pointers for your fundraising program itself. Listen to the episode now to learn more.

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