Staff Retention: Thank You and Goodbye

by Mark Noll, Rhode Warrior Blogger

Greetings from the Florida beach.  I retired a few months ago and am loving every moment of it.  Despite not being in the workforce any longer, I still keep up on everything in the world of Philanthropy.  Lately, I’ve been seeing a trend that has me a bit concerned about what we do as support systems to fundraising departments and how we go about our careers. 

The first twenty years of my career were spent in the world of job training and placement.  As a result, I became very familiar with hiring trends.  When I first started this career way back when the earth was still cooling, people would be in the same job from the time they joined the workforce until their retirement.  This is a trend that is very rare today as many individuals prefer to upgrade their skills and position in life through job advancements and relocation.  The longevity in any position seems to get shorter as time progresses.  In the world of philanthropy, gift officers change positions frequently while in-house staffing tends to be more long-term.  But that trend seems to be changing recently and it is not the result of choice.  Welcome to corporate philanthropy.

There is a disturbing trend in that more and more often, new Development Vice Presidents are looking to bring in their back-office staffs from their previous place of employment.  On one hand, this makes sense as the new VP is familiar with their former staff while the staff members are very familiar with the VP’s methods of operation.  The problem here is that there is already someone in the position who after years of service is asked to step down to make room for the pending arrival of their replacement.  The new VP seems blind to the fact that many of these soon to be dismissed employees have deep roots in the community.  Many have resided in the community their entire lives while others have relocated and made the community their homes.  Suddenly, the loyal employee with years of dedicated service is let go.  This results in the loyal and recently dismissed employee needing to find new work which often results in their uprooting their family.  This type sudden life change is traumatic for all involved, especially children. 

Philanthropy, by its very nature, is often community based.  So, what does it say to a community when an outsider comes in and tells locally based employees, “Thank you and Goodbye.”   It sends the wrong message.  The biggest concern to me is the fact that often times the departing employee has an exemplary record and is being dismissed simply for reasons I would consider to be discriminatory as there is often no grounds for dismissal; not in all cases, but in many. 

I feel it is time for the community to know that in some places your local fundraising office really does not care about your community at all but rather about the functionality of their office.  What message does that send?  Philanthropy in many areas is becoming corporate and is only concerned about the bottom line.  People’s lives are impacted by that mindset and I’m fairly certain that once the community realizes that that so called “good feeling” that philanthropy gives a donor is really nothing more than advertising and no longer coming from the heart.   So we have a choice; we can be philanthropic or we can be corporate bottom line driven, but we can’t be both.