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The Cost of High Turnover in Fundraising Jobs

The high turnover rate of fundraisers is costing charities money. Lots of money.

The average amount of time a fundraiser stays at his or her job: 16 months. The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement: $127,650.

Those figures come from new research by Penelope Burk,  president of Cygnus Applied Research.

In her presentation at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in Vancouver, she said findings from a survey she has conducted of 1,700 fundraisers and 8,000 nonprofit chief executives, suggest that it would cost just $46,650 to keep a good fundraiser happy by providing better salaries and other benefits, such as additional vacation time.

The study is expected to be released this fall.

Demand for good fundraisers is so high that it is vastly outstripping the supply, Ms. Burk said. Most good fundraisers are on the job just three to six months before they get recruited for a new role.

“Only one out of three fundraisers experience even a day without a job,” Ms. Burk said.

Reasons for Moving

When fundraisers leave their jobs after a short time, it’s often to get a better salary. More than one-third cited that reason, Ms. Burk said, while the next most likely motivation was to secure a more senior role.

Not surprisingly, salary is the top reason charities often can’t get the fundraiser they want. About 58 percent of chief executives said a low salary offer caused them  to lose their top candidates in a job search. Only 21 percent of chief executives said they were in a position to offer salaries they considered competitive.

Ms. Burk offered the following advice for keeping fundraisers on the job:

Promote internal talent. Adopt a succession plan and train employees to rise to the next level in the organization. “Your best hire already works for you,” Ms. Burk said.

Set aside training opportunities. Cutting money for professional development, as many organizations did during the economic downturn will probably affect fundraisers’ performance. “The training budget is the one thing you should never allow to be cut,” she says.

Help ease workers’ schedules. According to Ms. Burk’s study, fundraisers most want help balancing the pressure of career and family duties. About 52 percent of fundraisers said they want the option to work from home, 51 percent want flexible hours, and 42 percent want additional vacation time.

Send an e-mail to Raymund Flandez.


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