Finally, the true cause of high fundraiser turnover!

Recently a lot of people have been writing about the high level of turnover among fundraisers in our field.

As reported in The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently, 51% of the fundraising professionals in Canada and the USA that were surveyed say they will leave their current nonprofit and 30% say they plan to leave the fundraising profession altogether within the next two years.

Not too long ago Michael Rosen wrote on his blog, “As I see it, with the benefit of four decades of experience, the biggest ongoing problem with fundraiser retention is a near complete lack of will, on the part of nonprofit boards and C-level staff, to fix the situation.”

I agree with Michael.

I’ve often said that turnover is a function of leadership. And, unfortunately, the nonprofit sector seems to employ too few true leaders.

But what does it mean to be a leader after all?

Leadership is a word that gets thrown around a lot. If you search the term on, you’ll find over 50,000 book titles addressing the subject. And, if you search the images on Google, you’ll find tons of pictures, pithy phrases and motivational quotes. But I believe just about all of that content fails to fully help people understand what leadership really is.

Two big concepts about leadership (learned over the past 11 years).

  1. Leadership is not about character traits. It isn’t about being a boss or having a terrific title and it isn’t about exhibiting certain character traits. Just look at our so-called leaders in the U.S. including Hollywood celebrities and the people elected to hold positions in our government. Not much integrity but often referred to as leaders. It doesn’t make sense. Sure, you might be a better leader if you have integrity. Of course! But leadership, first and foremost, isn’t necessarily about that. Instead, it’s about having followers. If you don’t have followers (not employees), then you are not a leader— plain and simple! So, if you think you are a leader because you check a lot of boxes on a list of character traits but you don’t have people willing to metaphorically jump in front of a bus for you in support of your vision for the future, then… I’m sorry… but you ain’t no leader. Leaders have followers— seriously devoted followers. Period!
  2. Leadership is not about being universally loved. All of the greatest leaders in history such as Moses, Jesus, George Washington, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, and so on had detractors. They were not universally loved. In fact, in some cases their detractors hated them so much they even assassinated them. So, if you think that leadership is about pleasing as many people as possible and being universally loved, you’re wrong. Leadership is about providing value to particular groups of people so they come to the determine on their own that it is very much in their best interest to follow you.

Want more of my thoughts on leadership? Right now, you can hear me rant some more about what I’ve learned about leadership over the past decade as the CEO of MarketSmart. The host of Charity Chat in Great Britain, Samuel Davies, came across a blog article I posted some time ago about the difference between bosses and leaders and he reached out to me to see if I might be a guest on his podcast. I agreed and we scheduled a call.

During the interview I gave him an earful about what I learned over the years and what I believe leadership is really all about. He posted the recording and you can listen to it here. Episode 65: Bosses vs. Leaders.

I hope you’ll take a listen to the podcast.

If you do, you might agree with me and learn how you might gain followers too. Then, perhaps they (your staff) might even stay put working for your organization or institution to advance your vision for your cause.

Of course, if you like what you hear, I hope you’ll spread the word by sharing the link with your friends and colleagues.

And if you don’t agree, that’s fine. Why not challenge me in the comments section below? I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy running a business and I know what has worked to help me gain followers for my company. My way might not be right for you, and that’s ok.

Oh, and if you don’t believe me when I say I have followers

You can see for yourself by visiting MarketSmart’s Glassdoor page here. There you’ll find what current and former staff said about me behind my back.

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