I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned in the first few years of development work. In my first year, we had planned 13 mass-market event fundraisers. The development manager left two months before half of the events took place. We had a new CEO, and I discovered my position was funded by adding event income to the budget. If only I had known!
My reaction was to keep running. I proceeded to work weekends and several nights a week as we onboarded a new development manager, then another one. It was like we were hamsters in a wheel spinning until someone decided to jump off and a new person jumped on. Each time we had a change, I had the pleasure of meeting with volunteers and donors or share our “new plan” going forward.
The stats around development turnover are as true today as they were when I first started. According to the study UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising by CompassPoint and the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund:
It’s a vicious cycle that comes at a cost. Considering it takes a full year to learn the organization’s rhythms and donors – much less activate strategy. On average that leaves you have less than a year with that person. In between you have a lapsed position and even more lapsed donors.
How we got the hamster wheel to stop spinning.
What I still don’t know is if it stopped because of luck or good strategy. It was probably a combo of both!
Some of these steps we did intentionally and some were by accident, but all attributed to creating an environment where our development work could thrive.
Change is hard, but necessary if your team is spinning because by default you are not moving forward. The challenge is to STOP and think about what small steps you can take to get off that hamster wheel!