A Clarion Call to Shake Up Development Offices and Curb Turnover
By Holly Hall
PAY FUNDRAISERS MORE. Give them unlimited vacation time, make sure they rarely put in overtime,
and let them work from home whenever they want to. Offer them ample opportunities for promotions and ditch requirements that force them to do things
they don’t do well.
Those are some of the ideas Penelope Burk suggests to stem the rampant
turnover problem in fundraising offices
across the country.
Ms. Burk, a veteran fundraising
consultant, bases her suggestions on
five years of research with more than
12,000 fundraisers, chief executives,
board members, and donors.
Soon to be released in a book called
Donor-Centered Leadership, Ms. Burk’s
findings mark the second comprehensive study published this year that urges charities to shake up the way development offices work.
The first, a study by CompassPoint
Nonprofit Services, found that half
of all chief development officers plan
to leave their jobs in two years or less
and said the lack of help fundraisers
get from chief executives, boards, and
other staff members was a big reason
for their dissatisfaction (The Chronicle,
Ms. Burk isn’t interested solely in
making life better for fundraisers. She
contends that the turnover problem and
commonly used fundraising approaches
are causing charities to lose money they
could raise by operating more productively. (See article below.)
Much of her book focuses on ways to
curb turnover. Other experts agree with
Ms. Burk’s conclusions, but some question whether they are appropriate for
most nonprofits, especially small charities with few resources.
“What is interesting about Penelo-
n Donors who make the largest gifts should be treated better than other donors.
n It takes a long time to cultivate a donor from modest to generous giving.
n We can’t spend money to raise money because donors’ No. 1 concern is the
cost per dollar raised.
COMMON FUNDRAISING MYTHS: ONE EXPERT’S VIEW
n The more donors you have, the more money you will make.
n Losing donors is not a problem; there will always be more where they came
n Every fundraising program must make money.
n Donors give to support our organization.
n You don’t get if you don’t ask.
n We need to raise as much money as possible unrestricted.
n We have to have the money now.
—Excerpted from Penelope Burk’s forthcoming book,
Donor-Centered Leadership: What It Takes
to Build a High-Performance Fundraising Team
pe is that she usually gets the answer
right, and she is one of the few people
in the business to do research,” says
Kent Dove, the now-retired former se-
nior vice president for development at
the Indiana University Foundation and
author of five textbooks on fundraising.
But, he adds, “some of her conclusions
only fit certain groups.”
Still, turnover in the fundraising pro-
fession is an expensive problem that in-
terferes with charities’ ability to solve
some of society’s most pressing prob-
lems, and it can be reduced, Ms. Burk
says. Among her suggestions:
Pay fundraisers as generously
as possible. The top reason fundraisers leave their jobs is to earn more, Ms.
Burk has found in her surveys, and
they have ample opportunities to do so.
Senior fundraisers said they were contacted by search firms or other nonprofits about changing jobs after just three
to six months in a new position.
In her book, Ms. Burk offers an example of what she says is a mistaken
approach to dealing with compensation
issues. A high-performing fundraiser
making $90,000 at a national health
charity is offered another job paying 40
percent more, and his organization decided it could not afford to match the
But Ms. Burk says the health charity
should have done so, because the fundraiser, who supervised 18 colleagues
working on direct-marketing appeals,
might have stayed if he had gotten the
$36,000 increase. And, Ms. Burk notes,
Continued on Page 8
Share of fundraisers seeking
another job who say their top
reason for leaving is to get
Share of charity officials who
say they would never match
a salary offer to prevent a high-
performing fundraiser from
to conduct high-volume mass appeals
was a key reason one-third of develop-
ment officials said they left their last
jobs. Fundraisers said they aren’t given
enough time to figure out which solici-
tations work and why or how to improve
ested in a cause, not to solicit endless
However, most charities “bombard
donors with relentless pleas for con-
tributions, creating an environment of
over-solicitation and mistrust among
the very people they depend on for rev-
enue,” Ms. Burk writes. The result, in
her words: “a lumbering, expensive
fundraising system that is bleeding do-
Over-solicitation is now the most com-
mon reason donors say they stop giving
in surveys that Ms. Burk’s company
has conducted with more than 60,000
donors since 1998.
Those surveys have consistently
found that, instead of the token address
labels and calendars they get in direct-mail appeals, donors want charities to
tell them what’s been done with their
money before they’re solicited again.
She says such views are especially
prevalent among young donors, leading
to a rise in the number of people who
never make a second gift over the past
“Donors are abandoning causes sooner when dissatisfied,” she writes, adding that they are “avoiding fundraising solicitations altogether, preferring
instead to decide independently whom
they will support, when, and how.”
Bombarding Donors With Mail and Telemarketing Appeals Backfires, Author Says
IT’S NOT JUST DONORS who hate an unending stream of direct-mail appeals and telemarketing calls.
Those tactics also frustrate fundraisers
so much that many of them quit their
Such turnover is just one reason Penelope Burk, a veteran fundraising
consultant, is on a crusade to persuade
charities to rethink how they conduct
mass appeals and focus more energy on
building ties to doors who can afford to
Ms. Burk, who is about to publish a
new book called Donor-Centered Leadership, conducted interviews and surveys with 12,000 nonprofit officials and
donors over the past five years to figure
out how charities could improve their
One big part of her research focused
on how to reduce turnover, and in asking questions about what caused fundraisers to quit, she discovered that
the pressure on frontline fundraisers
Fundraisers said they
aren’t given enough time to
figure out which
solicitations work and why
to improve donations.
donations; instead they are just told to
keep sending more pitches.
Ms. Burk, who has spent more than
20 years as a consultant, believes direct
mail and other high-volume appeals
have a place, but they should be used
primarily to find people who are inter-
Paid Per Solicitation
Nonetheless, mass appeals persist,
she says, because direct-marketing
companies are very good at persuading charities that they are losing out if
they don’t keep pushing people to give.
What the companies rarely point out,
she notes, is that they typically get paid
for how many solicitations they produce,
not the total raised.
And even if they were paid based on
their results, she says, that calculation
would leave out the money charities
could raise if instead of sending appeals
again and again, they formed close ties