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Apr 12 , 2019

With the average tenure of a development professional being less than two years, it sometimes feels as if we are spending more time filling vacancies than raising needed funds.  Here are five tips for motivating and retaining your talent. 

  1. Start early - There is no need to wait until an employee’s first day to start thinking about the best way to keep this employee motivated and engaged.  Job description and expectations that are unclear is a recipe for employee discontent.  Don’t let your desperate need to get a position filled ASAP discourage you from taking the time to clearly review and communicate the expectation of the position and the organizational culture with candidates so that you both can be comfortable with the fit of the position for this particular employee. I once worked for a nonprofit where employees were unable to take days off between Thanksgiving and New Year. It wasn’t something I brought up during the interview process. Imagine the disappointment of the employee who looked forward to their annual family holiday trip to grandma. Be mindful!  
  2. Co-worker relations - Having to work with people you cannot get along with or trust is a huge motivation killer.  Helping team members understand each other’s work and communication styles is a key ingredient to employee morale and productivity.   One of the best investments my past and present employers have made is on individual and teamwork style assessments such as the Birkman Method or Business Chemistry.  If you are fortunate enough to be able to invest in these assessments, make sure you follow through with recommendations and how best for different styles of work to collaborate.
  3. Let your employees shine - I have an amazing Major Gifts Officer.  Her ability to listen and connect our mission to our donor’s passions are exactly what every development shop should look for.  I have to admit that I felt a touch of jealousy when I read her contact reports.  Shouldn't that be me out there having that meaningful connection with this donor? After all, I am the chief development officer. As the head of a team, you have to realize that trying to do it all is a sure fire way to mediocre results. 
    I knew that my priority at the time was to build an acquisition strategy that would continue to feed our Major Gifts Officer pipeline even if it wasn’t the sexiest of tasks.  Trusting my team members with important relationships and projects and giving them their moment in the spotlight keeps them motivated to do and aspire to more. 
  4. Invest in training - I once had an Executive Director ask whether investing in staff training would only make fundraising staff more marketable to competitors and thus more likely to leave the organization. A better question to ask is whether we really want a long-tenured fundraising professional that is not developing new skills that help your shop thrive. An investment in training signals to fundraising staff that you care about their growth and see a future for them in your organization. 
  5. Know when to let go - At one of my most beloved jobs, I was mentored by the Chief Human Resource Officer of the organization. He very candidly said that if I was still doing the same thing within the organization in five years he would be very disappointed.  Not many institutions have that kind of courage. He knew if I wasn't growing and being challenged that I couldn’t grow and challenge the organization.  When the time had come for me to stretch myself and move to an opportunity outside of the organization, my boss who was the Chief Development Officer was one of my biggest champions.  She said, “You are ready”.  The CDO and CHRO still mentor me to this day.  I like to believe that when we get together to brainstorm and discuss fundraising trends that I am still a part of and an asset to that organization.  Give your employees the opportunity to grow both in and out of your organization. 

About the Author

Lisa Garces, M.P.P, CFRE, is the senior VP of advancement at DePelchin Children's Center. A native of Houston, Ms. Garces is a first-generation college graduate. During her studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, Ms. Garces' internship opportunities in government agencies such as the CDC and NIOSH as well as her volunteer activities for the Girl Scouts and Boys and Girls Club, helped her discover her calling to serve in the public sector. She went on to pursue a master of public policy degree at the University of Minnesota with a concentration in nonprofit management. Ms. Garces returned to her native Houston where she has worked for over 14 years at some great nonprofits such as the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, The College of Biblical Studies Houston, The Houston Food Bank, The Salvation Army of Greater Houston and most recently DePelchin Children's Center.

Lisa Garces, M.P.P, CFRE