Staying Competitive in the Battle for Fundraising Talent | npENGAGE

Staying Competitive in the Battle for Fundraising Talent

By on Jul 12, 2019


Staying competitive in the battle to attract and retain fundraising talent matters now more than ever. With the right people in the right positions, you’re better able to meet your fundraising goals. When talent isn’t managed and nurtured with a thoughtful strategy, it not only costs you in missed opportunities, it puts strain on your budget. Addressing the challenge doesn’t stop with hiring staff members or gift officers – it includes professional development, career advancement and staff retention.

I’ve heard from many higher education leaders that hiring and retaining top talent is an important part of their missions. It can be a challenge to find the right fit, and once you do, the strongest team members often move on to new employment after a few years. As a result, many higher education executives have developed their own playbooks of how to hire, train, and retain teams in this competitive and fluid space.

Since talent management is such an important part of effective fundraising, we wanted to unpack what makes a great strategy. We wanted to understand and share how institutions of all sizes and structures create intentional and effective strategies. The idea for a research project was born.

Tested Insights from Advancement Executives

To gain real-world perspective, we took this topic to members of our Blackbaud Higher Education Executive Advisory Board (EAB). Members of this group consist of influential executives from higher education institutions with roles focused on advancement, alumni programs, technology, and other functions within the student lifecycle framework.

This select group was formed to provide strategic guidance to Blackbaud Higher Education and serves as a forum for sharing insight as well as industry expertise. As part of their work, members of this group collaborate with their peers and senior executives from Blackbaud to create customer-driven thought leadership content around higher education industry trends, common challenges, and opportunities. As such, the EAB was ideal place to search for perspective around talent management in the advancement office.

What Did We Learn?

Together with EAB members, we co-authored a whitepaper designed to share their practical insights as well as Blackbaud’s talent management research. It was particularly important for us to learn how institutions were approaching hiring and retaining gift officers, since our research suggested that mishandled gift officer transitions are especially costly for teams:

  • Gift officer turnover gobbles resources. Replacing a gift officer can cost up to 2X their annual salary.
  • 43% of prospective donors remain unmatched, even after a new officer arrives.
  • Departing officers are more experienced and bring in 2.5X the dollars that new officers bring*

Focus on the Institutional Goals for Best Outcomes

The majority of our EAB members reported that they spend a substantial amount of time each year to both find the right candidates and retain current employees. Hiring and retaining employees is a critical program investment. As such, our EAB members elaborated on how referencing institutional goals during the hiring process can illuminate the skills and experience the institution needs most.

Regardless of size, or unique perspective, outlining the institution’s priorities as well as strengths helped advancement teams make strong hires. Hiring great talent wasn’t just about finding the right candidate (although they had plenty of perspective on the best ways to get talent to the interview stage), it was about knowing what the institution needed and creating a position designed to succeed in that initiative.

Infographic: How Gift Officer Management Impacts Fundraising Goals

Talent Management After Hiring

Even after the right people are in place, our EAB members stressed that talent management work and successful team-building continued. Onboarding, training, and developing mentorship programs help managers grow and nurture outstanding teams and retain their best workers with new challenges and opportunities. They shared how developing intentional growth strategies for the team helps keep them longer and better aligns their work with institutional goals.

Join the Conversation

An institution’s size, location, and priorities all affect its approach to talent management. In many ways, the talent management strategy that engages staff and delivers results for the institution will reflect its unique culture.

Is your institution seeing success with a particular strategy? What barriers to talent management are you overcoming?  I invite you to read our co-authored whitepaper “Effective Talent Management in Higher Education: A Strategic Guide for the Advancement Office“and then offer your perspective.

We hope that the approaches our EAB advancement executives share will inspire your own talent management work.


Tim joined Blackbaud in October 2016 as President & GM of Higher Education Solutions. He is a visionary, award winning global marketing, sales and operations executive with over 25 years of experience at high growth technology companies. He has led worldwide sales, marketing and operations teams at leading corporations like Blackboard, SAGA Software (Software AG) and Iomega Corporation. With more than two decades of success in technology sales/marketing strategy and brand development, Tim has been named one of the “Top 10 U.S. Marketers” by Crain’s Business Marketing; “Top 100 Executives” by Advertising Age and won “Product Launch of the Year” from Marketing Computers (for the Iomega zip drive). 

Before joining Blackbaud, Tim served as a senior executive at Blackboard for over eight years, most recently as President, Global Marketing. Prior to this, Tim was President of the Professional Education business unit (ProEd) focused on non-profit, government, corporate and for-profit education market verticals. He also held senior posts as Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing and International Sales at Software AG Americas and served as Chief Marketing & Sales Officer at Iomega Corporation. 

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