Recently, Marts and Lundy came out with an enlightening report on the state of incentive pay in Higher Education development programs. I was excited to read about this often hush hush realm of our profession. Of course, we’re not talking about bonuses paid based on commission or a portion of the gifts raised, that is unethical. We’re talking about performance incentives that are meant to retain employees and combat mediocrity in our advancement shops. With the average life span of a front line fundraiser currently at 16 months, I’m all for retention of staff and donors. As I read further and further into the report, I became incensed. This graph should tell you why I am upset.
As you can see out of the respondents that have incentive programs, only two of them contain anyone in advancement services and NONE of them have incentives in place for donor relations. I completely understand that fundraising is hard work with meetings and visits and strategy. But only incentivizing the fundraisers and leadership creates a massive divide between front line fundraisers and the rest of the advancement division. It places an unfair importance on one person’s work over another. And it’s insulting. In order to close a gift it takes an entire team, from researchers to proposal writers to data pullers to the people writing the gift agreements. And in most shops this does not lie solely with the front line fundraiser. They have help. So why then are they the only ones incentivized for fundraising performance? Never mind the people who help perform stewardship, pledge payments and donor relations after the gift is closed.
Fundraising takes a team, it is not an us and them business. The most donor focused shops heavily rely on their teammates in order to secure a gift from a donor. So why are they not incentivized in the same way as front line fundraisers? In this chart you can see the end goal of the incentive programs for these organizations. The primary one is retention. And I understand it completely, especially with the lack of fundraising talent and frequent turnover. But wouldn’t that be the same for all vital positions? What is the detriment done if you lose a database manager? Or the person who does your endowment reports? I would say that the loss of these two employees would be detrimental as well. So where is the plan and incentive for them? Or are we not incentivizing their retention because they’re traditionally more stable?
I don’t mean to sound bitter or angry, but I AM upset. All of these tasks performed by teammates bring value and bring in gifts as well. But because we aren’t directly meeting with donors and asking them for money, we’re not eligible for incentives and bonuses? If someone messes up your gift agreements, proposals or endowment reports, it could be costly, why not incentivize good work in these areas as well? Maybe not tied to a dollar goal but performance metrics? We don’t need additional help creating a divide between “front office” and “back bone/office” positions in advancement. And this doesn’t help. What are some solutions to this? How do I get off of my soapbox and do something about this program? Is the study faulty and many of you are being incentivized right along with your fundraising partners? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the subject, not just from us but also from our fundraising partners. I would love to open a debate on the topic. Let me hear your thoughts!