Guess what? 51% of fundraising pros want to leave their jobs by 2021 - Generocity Philly

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Mar. 12, 2020 8:02 am

Guess what? 51% of fundraising pros want to leave their jobs by 2021

"We have to develop the next generation of fundraisers — and fast," says columnist Valerie Johnson.

Evon Burton (left) from Philadelphia FIGHT chats with fundraising pro and Generocity columnist Valerie Johnson during Generocity's ADVANCE conference in Nov. 2019.

(Photo by Marta Rusek)

As a member of our local Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) board, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of our profession.

We provide programming, networking, and other benefits to our members in their roles as fundraisers, so naturally we’re always thinking about how we can best provide support to our peers.

I’m not going to lie, this is a much bigger task than I originally thought.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy surveyed fundraisers in August 2019, and 51% plan to leave their jobs by 2021. Lest you logically conclude that this is the fault of baby boomers retiring (as I did), the survey also revealed that only 12% reported retirement or personal reasons for quitting.

The truth is, they’re leaving because we put up with a lot in our profession, and it’s stressful. 84% reported tremendous pressure to succeed, 55% said they often feel unappreciated, and 85% were dissatisfied with their prospects for promotion.

So AFP is not just providing educational events, in the end. We’re alleviating the pressure, showing the appreciation that folks don’t get from their own organizations, and helping them to find the promotions they aren’t getting at work. We’re providing the networks of fellow professionals who understand what they’re going through and can help make life just a little bit easier.

55% (of fundraisers) said they often feel unappreciated, and 85% were dissatisfied with their prospects for promotion.

But if 51% of these folks are going to leave their positions in the next 2 years, we’ve got an even larger problem. We have to develop the next generation of fundraisers — and fast.

I’m a typical fundraiser, in that I’m white and female. Most of my fellow fundraisers are also white, and the large majority are female. When I’m hiring for new fundraising positions, the majority of the candidates are white and female.

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And it would be easy — so very, very easy — to hire someone who looks like me. Especially because the candidates who don’t look like me are few and far between.

Yet, this city is incredibly diverse. White folks are in the minority here. It shouldn’t be this hard to find candidates who do not look like me. So what are we, as a profession, doing wrong here?

Well, first things first: we’re hiring people who have experience. We’re all overworked and stressed, begging for that extra position to be added to the budget so we can get some relief. When we finally have approval and can hire, we cut to the chase: we want someone who will hit the ground at a run. There’s no time to waste with training or onboarding, so we end up with someone who is a carbon copy of ourselves.

Secondly, my gut tells me that we’re not thinking about diversity. We just don’t care. We have a long list of worries, and intentionally diversifying our profession is not one of them. That’s something that someone else, who has the time, can think about, because we need help right now.

Finally, fundraising is building relationships with wealthy people. Many philanthropists are white. Most family foundations I’ve interacted with are headed by white family members. I would expect the amount of racism and unconscious bias that a person of color would experience as a fundraiser to be higher than average. And, given that we’re already in such a stressful occupation that half of us want out, adding the extra stress that comes with being the only person of color in most rooms you enter could be crushing.

So, my fellow fundraisers with hiring power: be intentional. Think about the future you want to see, and how you can help to develop the next generation of fundraisers. Keep this top of mind when hiring. If you find someone who needs a little bit of training, but has the potential to be an absolute rock star, invest your time! Don’t just get through hiring so you can get to the reward of extra hands; really think through your options and be intentional about who you’re hiring.

And, for the love of whoever you worship, take responsibility for building a safe space for employees of color. Know what microaggressions are, watch for them, and address them immediately. Be aware of your own unconscious bias, and the biases of others at your organization. Advocate for your staff so they don’t have to do it themselves. They’re already operating in a stressful profession with high standards; they don’t need to carry the burden of racism too.

It’s easy to look at this as a NIMBY problem, and focus on the hundred other things on your to do list. But if we don’t collectively make this a priority, we’ll be stuck in the same place we’ve always been — understaffed, overworked, and without a succession plan.

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