Staff turnover is, in a word, costly. Most of us in development view it as a clear negative. Team members are loaded with extra work until a replacement is found and onboarded. We often lose institutional knowledge and individual expertise. Turnover—especially at the development director level—can damage donor relationships, erode confidence in the development office, and lower morale.
But enough with the negative. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from turnover. What would happen if you treated the departure of a head of development as an opportunity to reframe and reconsider what your organization needs?
Consider conducting an exit interview. While it may be painful to hear, your outgoing director of development has invaluable insight into challenges you might consider addressing. Ask them to come in—after an appropriate period of time has passed—to discuss what you are doing right as well as where you can improve.
Apply what you know about donor relationships to your development staff. You already know the value of relationship-based fundraising. What would your development team look like if you approached all your interactions with the same focus on building lasting, fruitful relationships?
Consider interim management (IM). Nonprofit institutions often don’t consider this option because, on the surface, it seems expensive. But according to the Center for American Progress, it can cost businesses up to 213 percent of annual salary to replace an executive-level employee. For a director of development with an annual salary (including benefits) of $100,000, that’s $213,000. And hopefully, you hired the right person and do not have to start again.
The return on investment of interim management may be higher than you think:
- IM provides stability in times of uncertainty. Interim managers by nature and training have a high tolerance for chaos, and an ability to set the team at ease and excite them about the future of the organization.
- IM gives you inside/out perspective. In the months they are working with you, in addition to their leadership role, they will gather critical information about what your future hire will need to be successful—and be able to share that information candidly.
- IM can act as a bridge for supporters who are anxious about the transition. Having someone in a leadership role who is perceived as a neutral party can help a donor to share feelings or experiences that they might not have shared with previous staff leaders.
- IM can identify areas of inefficiencies and opportunity. Though they may be filling a specific role, interim managers function beyond the narrow scope of a title; they look across the development team to see opportunities for process improvement.
- IM can help you find the next hire. Their “on the ground” sense of the experience and personality required to be successful within the existing team is invaluable, and they can also counsel senior leaders to develop realistic expectations for the position.
- IM buys you time. Interim managers allow the organization to take its time to choose the right person the first time. The Board and senior leadership can feel confident that the organization is stable, allowing for a more thorough and productive hiring process.
- IM can help you avoid turnover in the future. Interim managers are in a good position to build out the foundation for long-term success, since they are not encumbered with the need for short-term results.
When a development director leaves, it’s natural to feel concerned. An interim manager can help you get back to the basics of fundraising—relationships—and maximize the opportunity for your organization.
Because of Campbell & Company’s expertise in fundraising, our interim management can not only provide direction for your development team, but also develop a plan for greater success in the future.