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#40 Churn and burn your way to failure

In a recent F&P article authored by my friend and colleague, Matt Gilbert, a myth that has haunted our industry since fundraising became a for-profit business was busted.

Matt wrote that high staff churn is an assumption that many f2f suppliers hold, but that his company reversed this trend by “hiring and supporting the right people, providing an environment where fundraisers were paid well, taken care of and 100% certain of what was expected of them and why.”

I don’t believe that his team were the exception that proves the rule, I think they were an example of a smart commercial company understanding their staff and the impact on their product.

Typically, a fundraising agency will recruit twenty new staff on day one and have only one remaining on day twenty.

Can you imagine this being permitted in any other industry? Staff attrition costs an agency as much as donor attrition through training costs, low performance in their first weeks, and lower quality pledges, but is something that is often put in the ‘uncontrollable’ column or put down to a lack of ‘community’.

Yes, if your staff are nothing but backpackers, a community feel is important as they have no friends or family in the city and need something to cling on to, but staff retention is a lot more complex than making sure your team get drunk every night.

In-house teams do not typically have the same turnover as their agency cousins, so what makes them different? The simple answer is time and scale. Many charities want their in-house teams to feel like they are part of their cause, and therefore want to treat them like their other staff. They do not want to be in a position where they are hiring people every Monday to replace the ones they fired on the Friday.

An in-house team may only run a training day for one or two people every few weeks to supplement their staff numbers. They will give you longer to get up to speed, rather than the agency version or three new donors in your first five shifts, or the more extreme, at least one every day or else you are fired.

Scale of the operation is the second important factor. Both Matt and myself ran high-end boutique agencies that worked well because we were not constrained by massive volume targets. Lower targets and slower growth meant that we could invest in better management and managers. The number one reason why you quit your job is your boss, and the number one reason why you are fired in f2f is that you did not develop quickly enough, again, largely down to your boss.

When a high performing manager leaves an agency, they leave a massive gap that is often filled hastily by the next best option who is not ready for the role. Building slower, smaller and training longer means that your next best option is someone able to perform at that level and champing at the bit to do so.

The smaller scale also allows for one key factor – hiring the right people. A webinar held by More Strategic’s Karen Armstrong this week reminded me of a vital tool in successful recruitment – Angela Duckworth’s GRIT test. Psychometric testing is used in countless other industries, and would be useful for ours too, but in the meantime a simple test of passion and persistence, the two most vital components of every successful fundraiser, can make a huge difference and will help us all finally bust the myth that f2f has high staff churn rates.

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