Want to Keep Fundraisers in Jobs Longer? Create Better Mentoring and Networking Opportunities
Updated: Apr 15
Every fundraiser has a story like this: they get an email for a training event, they use their already limited professional development budget to sign up, and then leave the event feeling like it was a total dud.
The same can be said of some networking events.
There is a large gap between the knowledge base of senior fundraisers and that of individuals who are new to the field. These opportunities to bring fundraisers together and share insights into the profession sometimes feel inaccessible to young fundraisers and are full of information that can be irrelevant to people who are struggling to keep up with the day-to-day grind of frontline fundraising work.
That’s a big problem in a profession that many get into with little to no training. Few people go to school to be fundraisers; we all bring other skills to the table that we refine and adapt over time. Many of us find our way to development careers through our work on behalf of a specific mission - but passion for an organization won’t lead to long term success without also gaining skills. Networking events, training, and mentorship are some of our most valuable tools to build our skills and hone our approach to raising money.
Sadly, it dovetails with the reality that turnover is perpetually high in fundraising. When a high-pressure career does not include strong opportunities for professional development, turnover is inevitable.
If we want to address the systemic problem of fundraising turnover, networking, training, and mentorship are great places to start. Here are a few things to consider when developing these events:
Grapple with Challenging Issues: One of the reasons I’m a believer in the Community Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement is its willingness to ask hard questions and inspire debate in the profession. Their willingness to address challenges related to inequity is a breath of fresh air, and other groups need to learn from them. I’ve seen so many events reinforce outdated ways of thinking without any room for evolution, and that’s a recipe for organizational stagnation and a lack of professional growth. The fundraising profession has to evolve and critically evaluate itself, and CCF provides an ideal model for that.
Focus on More than Major Gifts: As a fundraiser who isn’t primarily focused on major gifts, I’ve always been frustrated by how many training events lead back to major gift fundraising. That’s not to say those events aren’t important! However, there’s too much focus on how to cultivate gifts from individuals and not enough on how to work with foundations, corporations, and government funders. All of these revenue streams matter, and we need to do a better job of training fundraisers to leverage them.
Target Young Fundraisers: Another unintended consequence of how we conduct networking events is that they focus on people with established careers and well-developed networks. Whether this perception is right or wrong, some people just beginning their careers can feel they have little to gain. We can counter this by developing events that center the voices of young people who are entering the profession so they can learn from others who are working through similar experiences.
Create a Safe Space to Work Through Professional Challenges: When early career fundraisers are working through common challenges - whether it’s trouble with a Board, a goal they’re struggling to reach, or anything else - the best resource can be a safe space to develop solutions with other professionals. Some networking and training events do the opposite; they promote best practices but don’t leave any space to grapple with the challenges that arise along the way.
This isn’t to say there aren’t great events happening around the country; my AFP Chapter in St. Louis does a phenomenal job of developing events that cater to all levels of fundraising professionals, and our friends at Nonprofits First consistently produce fantastic training sessions.
The problem is that many fundraisers don’t have access to this kind of content and are instead left to navigate a system of networking events and one-size-fits-all training sessions that fail to provide helpful content and leave out valuable mentoring opportunities.
If you’re a fundraiser in need of support and can’t find helpful training events, our team of nonprofit fundraising consultants is here to help!
At Team Kat & Mouse we can share expertise on any aspect of fundraising and help you take your career to new heights.