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The Six Fundraiser’s Dilemmas – The Staff Turnover Dilemma

Updated: May 28

DGB Director, Peter Dalton, co-authored Giving Hope, for fundraisers, fundraising leaders, boards, CEOs and executives of for-purpose organisations. The book features the Six Fundraisers’ Dilemmas.


I was reminded of an old business joke recently. You probably know this one already.


Manager: What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?

CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

And I wondered what would happen if I turned it around. What if we consider that from a fundraising perspective?

CEO: What happens if we don’t invest in our fundraising staff and they leave?

Manager: What happens if we do, and they stay?


We know that people are leaving for-purpose organisations in ever-larger numbers. And while the majority remain in the for-purpose sector, some leave altogether. We also know that the time fundraisers stay with for-purpose organisations is getting shorter. Fundraising staff change roles and organisations frequently, about every 16 to 18 months for general staff and around every second year for those in the top jobs.

It’s not just the rapid turnover either. We’ve all had first-hand experience of how long it takes to backfill these jobs. Many organisations find it difficult to locate qualified fundraisers and often the top jobs remain vacant. Even after many attempts to locate the ‘right’ person. High turnover, uncertainty of continuity and staff capability has a negative impact on for-purpose organisations, their ability to deliver outcomes for their beneficiaries and donors.

Losing fundraising talent stops great fundraising.

Talented, motivated individuals are attracted to for-purpose organisations, because they want to make a difference. Great fundraising is a combination of the right fundraising activities coupled with the right organisational approach. An organisational approach that can attract the best talent reduces staff ‘churn’. This gives hope to fundraising staff as much as to donors and beneficiaries.

Yet so many brilliant fundraisers and fundraising teams are being restrained from achieving precisely the purpose of great fundraising by the very organisations they work for. Many of the very best fundraising professionals recruited to for-purpose organisations are being set up to fail.

They will fail usually because the organisation has the wrong structure, the wrong culture, and does not have the organisational learning culture to enable great fundraising to thrive. For-purpose organisations seek to create, increase, or improve Value for donors and clients. Value for donors attracts them to the organisation and creates a relationship that invites financial support. Value for clients encourages participation in programs and significant change in lives and communities. Value must always be relevant and meet the needs of stakeholders.

To create great fundraising, for-purpose organisations, CEOs and Boards need to champion the role of the fundraising function and the fundraising leader. If fundraising staff feel they are moving further and further away from the purpose of their organisation because of hierarchies and siloes, reporting lines, and metrics and evaluations, etc., they will feel unable to achieve the outcomes they hoped for.

When the for-purpose organisation and the fundraising team as a whole works together to build an internal culture of philanthropy in their organisation, linked by Donor-centred care, greater fundraising organisational learning and team culture, the inevitable result is reduced fundraising staff turnover.

Which answers my question.

What happens if we invest in our fundraising staff and they stay?


From Roe, R & Dalton, P 2019, Giving Hope: The journey of the for-purpose organisation and it quest for success, Palgrave MacMillan, Singapore.




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