Should I stay or should I go now?
- The Clash, 1981
Sure the Clash made this question pretty popular in 1981. But in fact, fundraisers are constantly asking themselves this question. This is borne out by the fact that the average turnover for development professionals is still in the range of 16 to 18 months depending on which of the myriad of articles you read on this topic.
This was on my mind the other day as I was speaking with a Development Director who had been with his organization for a little more than two years. As we chatted, he shared that even through the pandemic, the nonprofit he was with had met their fundraising goals and then some. He was especially proud of that achievement as many of his fundraising colleagues had seen significant declines in their revenue. Beyond that, he noted that his board of directors wasn't particularly effective. While three of the nine person board were pulling their weight - they both gave and got - the rest of the board really wanted to focus on governance. In my experience, this is the death knell for boards that are going to help their ED and development team fundraise. In summary, the Development Director was starting to feel that the job wasn't a great fit and that it might be time for a change. Yet, he wasn't sure and in fact, was very much on the fence.
Truth be told, the story I've shared above is not real. However, it many ways it is. It's actually a composite of the conversations I've had with both Development Directors as well as Executive Directors and it was done this way to maintain confidentiality and provide a broad overview of some common themes. Does any of it sound a little (or maybe very) familiar? The reality is that this is a much longer conversation requiring lots of thinking, a bit of stepping back to see where you're at as well time itself. Nevertheless, I thought I'd share a few of the key questions I often start with when this is the topic....
Have the reasons you joined the organization originally changed? Maybe you joined your nonprofit because you loved the mission. Or, perhaps you thought the CEO was an incredibly dynamic leader you could learn from and was incredibly inspiring. You might have even gone there because you saw all the seeds of a strong development operation that lacked the right person to nurture them (you!). These of course are just a few of the reasons I often hear when a fundraiser shares why he or she went to an organization. A solid first step in evaluating whether it's time to seek your next conquest is seeing if any of these or other reasons you joined have materially changed. And if so, what is the impact on you?
Have you done all you've set out to do? If you came to an organization to fulfill a specific goal, have you truly achieved that goal? Are there opportunities to do more and do they excite you? In my conversations, I often find that a fundraiser has gone to an organization as a next step in their career. That next step can be about the chance to raise a certain amount. For example, a fundraiser raising a $1 million budget is offered an opportunity to step into a role responsible for raising $3 million. Or a fundraiser is offered the chance to create a new program such as a major gifts program or launch a capital campaign. These are just two examples where a fundraiser can notch a very important career achievement. Does staying at the same organization offer equally compelling opportunities?
What's your gut (also known as your heart, intuition and inner wisdom) telling you? In my nearly two decades of working in the nonprofit sector and speaking with fellow fundraisers, I've noticed something consistently: By the time I'm having this conversation, the individual has usually made up their mind to move on to a new role. Sometimes they've already been offered it. Sometimes they're on the cusp of starting a search. Regardless, if they're talking about it to me (as a coach or otherwise), something is telling them that there's a fit problem - whether it's perceived or real. It's at this point that I'll typically tell the colleague, friend or person I'm coaching to go back and truly look at the first two questions but with a more realistic perspective.
If you find yourself in this quandary, I hope this can help encourage some thinking. But it should be just the beginning as opposed to your call for action.