Of the organizations responding to the
survey, 85% reported it was challenging
to find qualified candidates. Nearly half
(47.5%) stated it was extremely challenging
or nearly impossible to find even one
qualified candidate.

One in four (25%) reported it took them over six months to find a
qualified candidate. Four percent searched for over a year before filling
the position. Notably, more than four in ten (42%) ended up hiring
someone from their own circles—i.e., either someone who was referred
to them by a trusted colleague (24%) or someone they knew personally
beforehand (18%). One in ten (10%) said they experienced so much
difficulty finding a candidate that they gave up on searching and decided
to train and develop a current staff member for the position. We saw no
significant differences in the level of difficulty organizations encountered
in searching for candidates across various types and sectors of nonprofits,
which indicates most nonprofits face similar challenges in seeking to fill
open fundraising positions.
Our research suggests many organizations cannot “seal the deal”
when they do find good candidates. Many nonprofits are struggling
to compensate their fundraisers at a level that is competitive with
increasingly rising market rates. In our experience, this is particularly true
of small to mid-sized organizations. When these smaller organizations do
offer a position to a candidate they often cannot meet salary expectations,
or the candidate receives a better offer somewhere else. In an environment
where the supply of fundraising talent is significantly outstripping
demand, it is increasingly difficult for smaller organizations to compete.
Interestingly, the smallest nonprofits (those with less than $1 million
annual budgets) were significantly more likely than others to say
it took them only one or two months to fill their most recent open
fundraising position. This suggests they are either less rigorous in their
hiring practices or they are not trying to compete for more experienced
fundraising staff. Or perhaps they are hiring candidates who are
already known to them within their immediate circles. These are only
inferences—more study is needed to determine the factors leading
to this finding.

Fundraising is a people-based endeavor. Of all the building blocks needed
to create and sustain an effective fundraising program, none is more
important than the people you have in place on your team. This truth
extends across your entire organization. And it is not just about your
fundraisers. Responsibility for fundraising performance also extends
into the ranks of your chief executive and Board members. Success
in fundraising is also not simply about individual talent. This study
shows that fundraising effectiveness is significantly impacted by your
organizational culture—i.e., how your team members work together.
Giving is the lifeblood that nourishes the work of millions of nonprofits in
this country. Quality fundraisers are vital to keeping these organizations
healthy and growing. Yet we are facing a severe shortage of qualified
fundraisers in the marketplace today. This situation will only get worse.
Three in ten (30%) of the organizations responding to our survey stated
they had definite plans to hire one or more fund development professionals
in 2o21. Another two in ten (21%) were considering a hire but were waiting
for conditions to normalize post-COVID before making a final decision.
This shortage is particularly problematic at the frontlines of major
gift fundraising. With responsibility for nurturing relationships with
our highest value-giving partners, major gift fundraising positions are
critically important to the future success of almost any fund development
program. Yet these jobs are the hardest to recruit for. Sadly, donor
relationships suffer from a high level of staff turnover in these roles,
which leads to very real ramifications in fundraising.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics nonprofits added
over 130,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2021 alone. As the economy
bounces back from conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring
is certain to pick up at an increasingly rapid pace. As it does, this shortage
of qualified fundraisers will only worsen. So, what can be done?

For starters, nonprofits would be wise to invest in their existing team.
Good fundraisers are hard to come by. Don’t be quick to dispose of them.
If your fundraisers are struggling to meet goals don’t assume it is a skills
problem. According to our research, only approximately one in four
fundraisers’ departure is due to skill deficiencies or poor job performance.
Most departures are related to other potentially resolvable issues. Your
organization must be assertive to retain your fundraising staff. Begin by
checking your compensation plan with comparable nonprofits in your
market. Second, invest in tools, training, and resources to help them
achieve success. Third, give your fundraising department a voice in
organizational planning, decision making, and goal setting.
As an industry, we need to become more proactive and deliberate in
improving our hiring practices. It is clear from our research that too
few nonprofits are investing enough time, attention, and resources
into doing sufficient due diligence to ensure the people they are hiring
for fundraising positions have the right skill sets, characteristics, and
experience to succeed. And/or that they are the “right fit” for the role
they are being offered.
Nonprofits would benefit from seeking candidates from outside traditional
sources when hiring for fundraising positions. One indisputable
finding of this study is that the demand for qualified fundraisers is
significantly outstripping the supply. To solve this problem, we need
to start looking at candidates from related fields, particularly for
major gift fundraising positions. Fundraising is rarely a “first career.”
Most start out in something else and shift into fundraising. In fact,
some of the best major gift fundraisers our team at DickersonBakker
have worked with transitioned into fundraising from a successful first
career in a related field such as sales or management. Most made this
transition serendipitously. It is time for us to start being more deliberate
in recruiting appropriately gifted people and creating paths for them
to enter the field. This would be particularly beneficial to smaller
organizations that are struggling to compete for fundraising talent.

Finally, this study also underscores how important it is for nonprofits
to get more people engaged in fundraising. This should not come as
a surprise to those of us who work in the field. Fundraising is never a
solo act. It requires the involvement of people from every level of the
organization—particularly senior leadership. This may be the first
study to show a real correlation between CEO engagement and overall
fundraising performance.
Most CEOs come into their roles without much fundraising experience. It
is not something most learn naturally, and many find it a challenge. This
study shows how important it is to get it right. Coaching and training can
help. Given how CEO involvement in fundraising correlates with overall
organizational performance in fundraising, Boards would be well-advised
to invest in providing their chief executive with training and coaching to
help them become more effective in fundraising.
We at DickersonBakker are pleased to have had the opportunity to
conduct this study. Fundraisers are critical to providing nonprofits with
the resources they need to grow and thrive and impact hundreds of
millions of lives each year. It is a high calling. When nonprofits experience
challenges finding and/or retaining qualified people in these key roles it
affects us all. We hope the findings of this research will be helpful as we
seek solutions to these important problems.

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