Want to Improve Your Nonprofit? Look for Passion.

As we approach the end of the year, I always find it a great time for reflection and renewal. But one thing I’m not doing in preparation for 2017 is updating my resume. I’ve been at my job here 16 years. I am passionate about my company, our great employees and this dynamic field of nonprofit and planned giving marketing.

Sure, the company has my name on it. No doubt that makes a difference. But I’m one of several family members involved in our company, and I did work for another firm right out of college before I joined The Stelter Company. So if I really wanted to explore my options, I could. But I don’t—and I never will. I’m committed to helping our clients and their missions succeed.  And I love it!

Sadly, my experience is just about the opposite of what happens in the senior development office ranks at nonprofits.  We continue to see a 50% turnover rate among development executives and the average tenure for people in these positions at an organization is roughly 24 months. Development pros give a usual list of reasons why they take off:  More pay, better location, cultural issues, etc.

Can they bring the passion?

There’s one question that I wish every hiring team would explore with a prospective development officer: What is your passion for this position and the work we do?

If a candidate cannot answer that question convincingly, why bring him on board? The work of senior development professionals impacts donors, planned givers, staff, strategic partners, prospects, media, you name it. One might wonder: “If they are not excited about this nonprofit, why the heck should I be?”

Passion = longevity, stability, results

Compared to many other fields, nonprofit fundraising is a huge relationship business. We all know that. Relationships are everything. How can relationships grow and bear fruit if they have to start over every 24 months?

Nonprofit executives who possess a genuine passion for their nonprofit will stick around for many years, not just a couple, in my humble opinion.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Am I on track? Off track? Am I missing something? Let me know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Want to Improve Your Nonprofit? Look for Passion.

  1. Nathan – I absolutely love this article and agree with you 100%. I have been through 3 ED’s going on my 4th in my 10 years at this organization. Our most recent ED was with us just 5 years which is a pretty good record. It is very difficult to find a mission-driven person when you see the same people leaving positions and looking for a “better” one every 2 to 3 years. I know many are young and looking to move up. I completely agree with you about the building of relationships. It simply cannot be done if you don’t stick around to do that. It takes years to build relationships and earn your donor’s trust. I will suggest to our search committee that they add your interview question: What is your passion for this position and the work we do? It’s perfect and should be the first question asked of any candidate! Thank you for your thoughtful insights!

  2. Thanks for the comments Peggy and, as you noted, this is a situation that unfortunately too many nonprofits find themselves dealing with. Relationships are at the core of what makes a fundraiser successful and if you have a rotating door every 2 years at your shop it’s amazingly hard to get any momentum.

    Another thing that we’ve done internally at Stelter is hiring for our ‘culture’. Part of our hiring process includes sharing a poster of our 12 Stelter Values with the interviewee and ask them to share with us which ones best speak to them and why…you can learn a lot from someone and about their motivations that way!

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