Turnover Troubles? | npENGAGE

Turnover Troubles?

By on Mar 28, 2019


It’s no secret that turnover is a known evil for many social good organizations. What may be less obvious are the reasons why. Maybe you’ve seen the situation first hand – an incredibly passionate individual decides to make a difference and shifts their career to the nonprofit sector, only to be burned out and leave their new role within the first year. They were so passionate for the cause coming into the role, and successful in their career prior to switching sectors, so what happened?

This is where Jason Lewis steps in to provide valuable insight during his interview in episode 89 of The sgENGAGE Podcast, Developing Fundraising Talent. Highlighting some of the ideas and concepts from his book “The War for Fundraising Talent: And How Small Shops Can Win,”Jason cites the initial motivation and the original reasons people come to the sector as a big reason why they don’t stick around. Most people come to make a difference in the world and want to work directly with the children, animals, etc., directly dealing with the cause, but end up in fundraising positions, professionally asking people for money with limited exposure to those they came to help.

So, how can organizations solve this problem?

  • Focus on developing fundraisers rather than hiring and placing fundraisers.
  • Instead of prioritizing hiring people who are passionate about your specific cause, instead prioritize people who have the qualities needed to be a good fundraiser.
  • Keep in mind what brings people to your organization in the first place and help them find roles that connect with their initial drive.


Beware of Arms-Length Fundraising

Arms-length fundraising is term coined by Jason in his book. It is the tendency for nonprofit organizations to get in the habit of using very effective new acquisition techniques that generate high volumes at a very low costs to acquire initial gifts. This is a pattern of behavior where the organization, rather than acknowledging the supporter relationship has gone from being a non-entity to making that first gift, leads to the exchange of a series of trivial gifts instead of investing in that relationship in more meaningful ways. The repeated technique creates a distinctly transactional relationship of diminishing personal value. And not only does it affect your relationships with donors, it can contribute toward low morale in your fundraising team. Here are some ways Jason suggests moving past arms-length fundraising:

  • Don’t get complacent with high volume transactional gifts. Even if the approach seems to work now, you’re likely to see diminishing returns in the coming years.
  • For each campaign and event, consider how you can go beyond the initial ask and make the transaction more meaningful by demonstrating the value of your supporters’ gifts.
  • Make sure your fundraisers have the chance and skills to build relationships with donors and potential donors.


A fundraiser’s job is a difficult one without a doubt, and it’s easy for a person to lose their drive when they lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes passion can even backfire if people feel like they aren’t personally making a difference. Jason’s insights are invaluable to hiring and managing your fundraising talent, as well as a few pointers for your fundraising program itself. Listen to the episode now to learn more.


Joe has been with Blackbaud for over three years and supports the brand team as an Associate Marketing Communication Specialist. He is involved with managing content for the npENGAGE website and the sgENGAGE podcast and is thrilled to be in a position to share leading industry trends and ideas within the philanthropic sector. With a passion for animal welfare and the arts, he is a self-proclaimed patron of live music based in New York City who prior to Blackbaud spent more time working with dogs than humans.

Comments (13)

  • Shelly Gammieri says:

    Looking forward to deep-diving into this podcast. What is the number one reason fundraiser’s burnout? Is it that they really feel disconnected from the cause or is there something more that can be addressed?

  • Karen says:

    Some of your points really hit home for me as a professional fundraiser. A good fundraiser has to be passionate about the mission and the cause to be a good fit for the organization. Hiring is tiring, especially when you hire the wrong people and have to start all over again.

  • Susan Chomsky says:

    Staying close to the mission is important to keep staff motivated, whether as fundraisers or data entry. We schedule regular visits to our food banks and mobile pantries and we have “work on the farm” team engagement opportunities. Quality time with our donors is complemented by quality time with our mission.

  • Mary Sommer says:

    Fundraising at all levels, large and small, needs the ability to works at different scales.

  • Chanteasea P Swain says:

    Although, fundraising has so many tools it’s still a fragile entity. It remains true to human connection and relations within those connections.

  • Heather says:

    My org I work for has had such turnover problems in the past, but we are very stable right now, thankfully. Thanks for the tips to help keep us that way!

  • Jenn says:

    I also came from a place with high turnover. Seeing an organization that does value their team members and develops them has been so welcome and wonderful.

  • Vickey Dudley says:

    Interesting – thank you!

  • Barb says:

    “For each campaign and event, consider how you can go beyond the initial ask and make the transaction more meaningful by demonstrating the value of your supporters’ gifts.”

    Love this!

  • Jennifer says:

    This makes a lot of sense. I’m glad I took time to review it!

  • Jenny Wuchner says:

    This is really interesting. I plan to pass it on to our fundraising team

  • VLA says:

    Great article. I will be sharing with my co-workers. If you are not passionate about your organization it will show!

  • DL says:

    Really interesting article, glad I took the time to give it a read. I can understand how an individual could/would get burnt out quickly if there was not passion in the work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *