The Great Resignation: An Advancement Perspective

Okay, so maybe all that talk about millions of people shucking their jobs and living off the grid was overstated. With a few more miles in our rearview mirrors, we can see what happened:

  • Lots of people left their jobs for better ones
  • A better job was defined by many as one that would let you work from home
  • More people were and are looking for a better work-life balance
  • Most of all, most people went looking for meaningful work

The advancement shops that are now suffering the most were the ones that didn’t get any of this.

There are lots of advancement jobs now open. Take a quick look at the job descriptions and you’ll see why. They read like a recruitment brochure for ninjas. We’ll drop you behind enemy lines armed with nothing but a portfolio. Your job is to quickly disarm the enemy, take their valuables, return to base. Repeat same, often. They come across like a grim list of duties. Philanthropy is not spoken of as a precious resource that we need to renew. The great purposes for which philanthropy is to be sought are not mentioned. Nothing is said about an environment designed to bring out your best. Gee, I wonder why they aren’t lining up in droves.

But there’s another kind of resignation that isn’t being acknowledged – people opting to stay in advancement jobs without really believing in them. They’ve decided to stay for a host of practical reasons, but they don’t buy the hype they’re expected to peddle – so they don’t. They salute the higher-ups, feign enthusiasm, go through the motions, and do what it takes to make their numbers. Imagine what it’s like to work in those places – with fewer people trying to cover more bases. Imagine what the donor experience must be like.

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We’re not going to attract better people or bring about the best in the ones we have if we don’t rethink and redo everyone’s job description and add more soul-enriching elements to them. Decades ago, Peter Drucker said the more we move into a creative economy, the more we will need to treat staff like volunteers. Welcome to that world. Managers who bristle at that advice have never seen what volunteers can do if well-chosen, well prepared, and given the opportunity to put their talents to their highest and best use. No one has to tell them what they should do, only why it matters.

We shouldn’t be conducting “job searches”, we should be trying to attract and retain those who are searching for meaning. The best careers in advancement are built in cultures where it is treated and practiced like a calling.


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 


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