Three Reasons for the High Turnover Rate Among Nonprofit Development Directors

Turnover for nonprofit development directors is less than 2 years – 18 months in many cases – a statistic that has been well-documented.

Ann Marie Laing writes (Employee Retention Strategies in Nonprofit Organizations ( that an increase in nonprofits’ retention rate for development directors (and all employees) may have “a positive impact on social change in the community.” Her research found training as a motivational factor among the reasons for remaining with an organization — regardless of length of employment, working full- or part-time, professional environment, age, gender, and level of employment. Another factor was the compensation package, which is always a challenge for nonprofits. But doesn’t the cost-to-risk benefit make higher pay worth it? Circulating new development directors through an organization costs thousands more in lost DONOR retention!

Spending <5 minutes with Karen Eber Davis’ youtube video may help nonprofits understand how to better retain their development directors.

She cites three reasons for the high turnover rate, and offers a path forward that may keep your development directors around for a long, long time. These points are all worth examination:

⦁ Is your organization ready to fundraise?
⦁ Does your entire org understand they have a role in philanthropy?
⦁ Does your org have a (long) list of prospective donors ready for your new hire to have some early wins?
⦁ Is your CEO setting your new development director up for success?
⦁ Do they set good expectations with your board?
⦁ Do they understand what success looks like, that cash in the door may not be immediate?
⦁ Is your new development director a good fit?
⦁ Do they have not only fundraising skills, but skill in managing internal relations?
⦁ Do they love fundraising?

The cost to an organization to hire and retain a good development director is incalculable. I personally have lost most of my interest in a local nonprofit after their development director left. She’s now happy in her new position, tearing it up for her new organization, warming their donors’ hearts with her enthusiastic, heartwarming, genuine nature and love of the mission. Why did she depart her other job? Was it the lack of advancement, lack of professional development opportunities, lack of support, unreasonable expectations? Likely it was all of the above, plus a few more reasons. But it’s unlikely she fell out of love with their mission.

A good development director is worth their weight in gold, and should get the support they deserve to do their job effectively. Development directors go out into the community, preaching your mission, and are constantly on the lookout for more followers. Pressure to “close the deal,” make some sort of quota, or meet unrealistic goals foisted on them by unknowing boards or CEOs, all add to the unbelievable stress of their jobs and feelings of failure. Add to that the low pay, and that’s a recipe for an unhappy employee who jumps ship for greener pastures. Instead, if we help them succeed by educating our CEOs and boards on what success looks like and setting reasonable expectations, promote a culture of philanthropy throughout our organizations, and give them the tools they need to do their jobs (pay, training, donor lists, etc.), then we all win — donors, nonprofits, and the advancement staff!

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