As frontline fundraisers, we know that the best practice is to build a prospect's relationship with the organization rather than with us as individuals. We do this so that if and when we depart from our roles, the donor will likely maintain their philanthropic relationship with the organization. However, we can acknowledge that we naturally develop relationships with one another – it's only natural! So, what can organizations do to minimize the risk of diminished relationships when a staff member departs?
During the last couple of years, many of Campbell & Company's clients have dealt with unprecedented turnover during "The Great Resignation," a recent trend in light of the pandemic that's led workers to quit their jobs at record levels.1 We've learned alongside our clients during this time and can share a few insights.
Involve natural partners in donor cultivation
It's important to have more than one individual from your organization involved in a donor relationship. It is important for the continuity of the relationship during staff transition and helps strengthen the prospect's relationship. Staff members outside of development can help connect the donor more deeply to your mission – explore the prospect's interests and connect them to individuals in the organization serving that programmatic function.
Board members and volunteers are also important partners that ensure relationship longevity. Be sure to track relationships in your CRM when a volunteer invites prospects to sit at their table for an event or invites them to a cultivation event in their home. These connections can help keep a prospect engaged during times of transition.
It's fair to admit that involving these individuals is more challenging for the relationship manager – it is an additional calendar to manage and additional input to gather, but the payoff is worthwhile.
Ask the departing employee to facilitate a relationship transfer
The time from when employees announce their impending transition to when they end their employment is precious. Prioritize learning as much as you can about their donor relationships. They can help by doing some thoughtful documentation such as:
- Ask the departing employee to honestly assess the status of each constituent in their portfolio. This transition likely represents an excellent opportunity to drop people from active management who have not advanced in their relationships with your organization. Use a clear system, such as "Priority reassign," "Consider for reassign," and "Do not reassign." Ask them to capture any notes about the prospect that are not documented in the CRM.
- Ask the departing employee to flag relationships they consider are "at-risk"– perhaps they haven't been able to make contact, or their giving pattern appears to be changing. Flagging will allow the remaining team members to prioritize taking care of those relationships during the transition period, armed with knowledge about that donor's context.
- Finally, ask them to send a note proactively communicating their transition to donors in their portfolio and connect them to a new resource on the team.
Reassign relationships promptly
Hopefully, your organization can promptly fill the vacancy left by the departing employee. But in this tight labor market, take steps to reassign priority prospects and at-risk prospects to other team members.
This may cause some portfolios to be oversized. We recommend that a full-time major gifts officer carry a portfolio of 100-125 people. If you haven't done it recently, take this opportunity to rebalance portfolios across the team, removing individuals who have been unresponsive or are unlikely to increase their gift with further cultivation – hopefully that will yield a few available spots. Otherwise, consider using a classification that indicates the assignment is temporary, and move it out once a new staff member is onboarded.
What additional tips do you have for navigating staff transition on the major gifts team? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and let's have a conversation!
1. "The Great Resignation is still in full swing. Here's what to know" CNBC, March 2022, by Greg Iacurci. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/31/the-great-resignation-is-still-in-full-swing-heres-what-to-know.html