Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Infuriating Fundraiser Incentives


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!

Cheers,

Lynne

25 comments:

  1. I think the issue is, in our shop, anyway, that donor relations is a fairly new position and leadership is still getting an idea of the value of donor relations.

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    1. GREAT point! Again, I appreciate any and all insight here- so thanks for that!

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  2. Hi Lynne, I completely agree with all your points. However, I've noticed that, unlike direct fundraisers, Donor Relations fundraisers tend to stay with an organization forever! We love our jobs and provide the continuity that makes up for the high turnover in direct fundraisers. Organizations have no need to encourage us. But you're right. They should!! Steph

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    1. Exactly! So if we stay, why aren't we being rewarded for the VERY behavior they want from fundraisers?

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  3. Hi Lynne, this is a very interesting topic indeed and I wonder if "back office" staff (myself included in that group)have more longevity because we don't have other institutions waving carrots at us. We don't get much out of moving on. Pay is often in the same range and you know the rest...meanwhile, front line fundraisers are being recruited after one year on the job with or without a track record.

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    1. While the recruitment may not be a heavy for us, it is happening. The question remains, why not share the wealth?

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  4. Amen. Seems like "improved employee performance" matters a great deal in any business, and that alone makes good sense for a more inclusive, all for one, one for all "incentives" approach. The entire advancement "team" benefits from working together, and working smart with energy, imagination and dedication.

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  5. I think you make valid points, but I think first there would have to be KPIs that donor relations could be graded on to establish what should constitute a bonus. However, everyone knows that it's easier to retain the donors you have rather than bring in new and in that context, stewardship officers should absolutely be recognized and incentivized for excellent donor retention.

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    1. I would be all over KPIs like retention rates and pledge fulfillment rates, many of us are already measuring that- While it may not be as concrete as dollars and donors, there are metrics.

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  6. Madelyn C. JonesJune 29, 2016 at 2:32 PM

    I would love to see us move in this direction. To get there, we Donor Relations folks (myself included) need to step up our metrics game. Let's do a better job at documenting what we do so we can better demonstrate our value.

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    1. I also believe our professional organizations AASP, ADRP, APRA and others should be advocating on our behalf and pushing these efforts too!

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  7. I think that a large part of the inequity stems from remnants of a corporate culture. The CEOs & Presidents get all the glory (and exorbitant bonuses and raises) when the company does well. In our field, Advancement and Development leadership are rewarded because they led their teams to new fundraising heights with little consideration that it took a village of supporters to get them there. I am almost certain that not one single $1M gift was EVER received because a senior development director went rogue and excluded everyone else from the process.

    The "villagers" will never be recognized for the roles they play in the success of the leadership, nor will they ever be compensated fairly for the perceived success of the leaders, who, without the knowledge and expertise of the team, would likely flounder.

    There is some comfort in knowing that a marching band without a drum major is still a parade, but a marching band without a band is just some guy walking around with a stick.

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  8. Lynne, thanks for asking this probing question. Given this data, it seems to me that non-front-line fundraisers are not leaving - or threatening to leave - at high enough rates to be included in most incentive compensation programs. The old adage (and 1988 hair band song) may be true: don't know what you got 'till it's gone. Until the executive or board designing the program sees a need to apply it to non-fundraising positions, they won't. I wonder if gender contributes to this situation: since more women than men have traditionally filled these "back office" positions and women also have longer tenure in jobs than men. We MUST be smart about showing our value and we must NOT be afraid to make a career move if we are being under-compensated.

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    1. I would buy the gender argument in donor relations, but advancement services is predominantly male and they aren't included either- I agree that we must begin to DEMAND these efforts.

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  9. I appreciate this point -- that often, Donor Relations shops provide longevity and continuity within an organizaiton. However, that should mean it's even more important that we are provided with career tracks and incentives to stay. If they want to rely on us to be the stable hand in our organizations, then they should work to keep us there. If our only opportunity to advance or be rewarded is to leave our institutions to look for work elsewhere, then Advancement leadership is talking out of both sides of their mouth -- wanting employee retention but not rewarding those who they need to retain seems to be a losing strategy.

    On the other hand, I also wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that our field is highly populated by women. I feel like women (myself included) tend to be less inclined to want to rock the boat in the workplace, and I'll go ahead and make the leap that women in donor relations are kind, customer focused, loyal folks, so we're not often the first to look to find other positions simply to advance our career. Are we selling ourselves short by not fighting harder within our workplaces/not being more willing to relocate to advance?

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    1. I would agree that part of it is personality, part of it is us not culturally the ones to speak up the way others have. It must change.

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  10. In addition to the discrepancy in incentives, frontline fundraisers often earn significantly higher base salaries. The rationale behind this is that "they're the ones raising the money" -- which a) goes against your salient point about the entire team being crucial in procuring a gift, and b) makes it even more frustrating when they are the only ones receiving incentives and bonuses. I understand that high salaries are a recruiting tool for positions with traditionally low retention, but long-lasting, dedicated team members should be rewarded for their good work and longevity as well.

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    1. Yes!! I forgot about this- so this is even further insult to injury!

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  11. I'm still waiting for a fundraiser who receives incentives to reply and let us know how they feel about it? Maybe our fundraiser partners should refuse their bonuses until everyone gets them and not just accept them blindly?

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    1. Hi Lynn. At Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, we have an incentive plan for ALL staff members, from the receptionist to the VP. I'm the VP and recognize that each dollar raised is a team effort. We incentivize everyone to help us meeting the team financial goals. Additionally, each person has individual performance metrics. It's not difficult to create metrics across the organization. This is a top down leadership issue, so I encourage anyone to bring up this topic with their VP. Tell them to call me for more information. Or even better, send me your resume. We are hiring and value each member of our team.

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  12. Lynne, I am a major gift fundraiser, but I don't receive any bonus (being in a highly unionized university). I really believe in breaking down silos, but maybe because I worked my way up. I do think that gender and "personality" play a role in demanding/ hoping to receive incentives. I truly just believe that support staff are not considered "as valuable" to the bottom line.

    What can we do as fundraisers?
    * We can actually thank prospect researchers for "that lead" and then report back on what has happened as the relationship develops. (Step 1 rarely happen, and Step 2 even less often).
    * We can pass along thanks and other comments to stewardship partners (here, we have two people who prepare stewardship reports). That's right, pass along thanks. From ourselves and the donors. How often have you done that?
    * We can periodically thank the gift processing staff! My guess is we pretty much contact them when we get a gift and when they "get it wrong." I believe that those who handle gifts often get interesting insights! If MG fundraisers tried gift entry for a day (and all the accuracy and understanding of coding it takes) they might have deeper appreciation.
    * More gratitude for a great team and teamwork. I think everyone in the nonprofit hears, "OMG! I could never ask for a gift! MG work is so hard! We should appreciate them" Well, yeah, it is a challenge. But I love it and I do it because it is the sort of hard I like. If you've every worked on a team firing on all cylinders, you know how powerful that can be.
    * The real amazing colleagues are those actually doing the frontline work... caring for the elderly, the vulnerable, the children, the animals, the environment...

    If nothing else, we "gift officers" should send out at least five heartfelt thank yous after reading this post...

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  13. I'm the director of stewardship at my organization, and I am judged on metrics and receive an incentive along with the front-line fundraisers. My metrics are things like number of donors reported to and retention rate. The front line fundraisers were offered an incentive; I had to ask. We absolutely have to demand it.

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  14. Check out how the University of Minnesota does it. Everyone is eligible for up to 10% and it is awarded based on individual performance, so theoretically a donor relations officer could get 8% while an MGO might only get 3% if their performance wasn't as expected for a higher bonus.
    I also think the reason front-line fundraisers are the focus of incentives is straightforward supply and demand economics. There are more front-line positions, thus more people needed and less people to fill. The demand for front-line positions is greater, so their perceived value will be greater until something shifts in the industry. It is important that those of us serving in front-line roles advocate for our partners and foster a culture of gratitude with or without incentives.

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  15. This has been a frustrating experience. I had to leave a previous position at a fantastic organization because of their one-sided payscales. In order to support myself, I had to work two jobs (and I was not the only one). I had previous experience as a director and did not perform entry-level work. After communicating a need for more equal pay and being denied, it got to a point where I no longer could burn candles on both ends. Unlike my amazing underpaid teammates, I went and got another job. After I left, the board and president expressed great dismay. My response - an organization expresses the value they have for positions by the pay. I don't want just a thanks. I want to be able to afford to take care of my kids. Raising gifts is a team effort, and the bonuses should reflect this.

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