At a time when many organizations aren’t getting applications for long‑vacant positions, people ask us this question every day. To unpack the complexity of the situation and offer reassurance if your résumé inbox is underpopulated, Daniel H. Lanteigne, Senior Consultant with BNP Philanthropic Performance, offers some possible answers.

The fundraiser exodus is not new

First of all, to explain this phenomenon, we need to go back to the time before the pandemic. While these days the pandemic explains a lot, it is not the sole source of this particular problem. As early as 2013, one study sounded the alarm about anxiety and dissatisfaction among fundraising executives. Already at that time, half of high‑ranking fundraisers were considering leaving their jobs and even leaving the philanthropy sector.1 

That was eight years ago. Granted, that study was conducted in the United States, but the same situation is also apparent in Canada and Quebec. Subsequently, in 2019, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and The Chronicle of Philanthropy commissioned a study on this issue,2 with findings that were not encouraging. The study identified an exodus from the philanthropy sector:­3 among fundraisers (including philanthropy development advisors and executives), 51% said they would be leaving their organization within two years, and 30% were even considering leaving fundraising altogether. 

But why?

Among respondents, 84% pointed to increasing emphasis on data entry; others (36%) reported dissatisfaction with the support (or lack of support) for fundraising activities from their boards of directors.

But that’s not all. While positions in the philanthropy sector are resonant because they benefit society, change the world and are meaningful, it is important to update our strategy for attracting talent. Yes, there is a sense of mission, but work in our sector is not exactly restful. Not surprisingly, many respondents reported considerable fatigue: 25% were unable to take a vacation; and 43% reported feeling exhausted.4 Individuals who work in philanthropy are not at Club Med, and paycheques do not fall from trees: there is work to do, and lots of it. While our work is satisfying and the results often tangible, it is demanding. We need to bear in mind that our sector changes lives one at a time.

La crise de la main-d’œuvre en philanthropie

And how does COVID-19 fit into the picture?

In a philanthropy sector that was already experiencing worrisome turnover and marked instability, COVID-19 didn’t help. Although some organizations were able to diversify their funding sources away from reliance on events, many employees, and not only those engaged exclusively in event planning, were first laid off and then let go. As a result, at a time when our sector already had a personnel retention problem, we lost many individuals to the private sector. Overall, COVID-19 meant that we didn’t help ourselves.

All that said, the pandemic has had general effects beyond our own sector.

  • In a time of crisis, people resist change and thus are less inclined to change jobs. Understandably, it takes courage to leave a position that appears to offer employment security and take a leap to a different organization with a different culture and different colleagues.
  • Monthly mortgage payments still have to be made. Some individuals in our sector were able to accept work with an organization offering a lower salary if their partner’s job offset the drop in pay. But what if the partner loses, or might lose, their position? The private sector, too, has had to eliminate positions.

And there’s more!

  • Child care spaces. You may have heard numerous announcements of additional child care spaces. These are not empty spaces for future children; they are spaces that will reduce wait times for parents who are unable to participate fully in the workplace because of lack of child care. It’s not unusual for families to have to wait two, three or four years for a child care space. That’s two, three or four years during which the market is deprived of qualified employees.
  • Aging population. By 2023, it is anticipated that 600,000 more individuals will retire;5 this figure is in addition to the jobs that need to be created in that timeframe. These figures are significant for the Quebec labour market, and directly affect our sector.
  • The Great Resignation. You may have heard of this phenomenon. Forbes6 notes several reasons for this vast wave of resignations in the United States, which could also occur in Canada. Reasons for this trend include pandemic‑related burnout, collective reassessment of priorities and what matters most, and the fact that an increasing number of businesses are calling their workers back to in‑office work. Microsoft reported that 40% of workers worldwide are considering leaving their jobs this year.­7 As well, one in four employed persons in Quebec noted a lack of employer support during the pandemic.8 None of this helps.

 But for every problem there’s a solution!

So where do we go from here? Do we passively watch as people walk away from our sector? No way!

The present situation is a golden opportunity, not only to keep on endeavouring to attract talented individuals but also, and especially, to retain them. Here are some ideas for you to consider – now, not a few months from now.

  • As managers, have the courage to address the situation: your labour market concerns and your desire to have every employee stay with you. Proactively reach out to employees who would like to leave; wouldn’t you rather have that conversation before they hand in their letter of resignation?
  • Plan for the next generation of workers, and better sooner than later. There are many available executive positions, and not many qualified persons interested in this type of work. Make sure you’re well prepared for this eventuality, and quick on your feet when this transition occurs.
  • About teleworking, there are really two questions: when, and why. Your response to the when question should make clear when you want workers present in the office, and how many days a week you want that to happen. And it should be based not only on your operating needs, but also on your employees’ wishes; otherwise they can readily find another organization that offers greater flexibility. Your response to the why question should explain the purpose of in‑office work: there is no reason employees should come in to work, only to spend their day meeting via Zoom. Most importantly, employers need to stop considering teleworking as a reward or a perk: it is no longer a special feature; it has become a basic imperative.
  • Retain experienced workers who are planning to retire soon. With them, explore how they might continue to support your organization: working part‑time, mentoring and, who knows? maybe even continuing to work full‑time!
  • More than ever, listen. Listen to what employees have to say about vaccine passports, the presence of unvaccinated co‑workers and the spread of variants, all of which create variable-geometry anxiety in the workplace. Be available. Reassure your employees. Give them space in which to be genuine and vulnerable. And be genuine and vulnerable yourself: we’re all human!
  • Talk and walk diversity! Be sure you make use of alternative hiring networks. Re‑examine your expectations, particularly in terms of education and bilingualism. Make it easy for yourself to contact, attract and retain qualified persons from non‑mainstream groups.
  • Hire fast! When it comes to recruiting, things move quickly, and you need to be nimble. If you’ve found a good candidate, chances are that other organizations have identified that person too. So don’t waste time, but move quickly to make an offer. Don’t be offended if the person says they have received a better offer; these days, those are the rules of the game.
  • Consider using the services of headhunters. They don’t have a magic wand, but they do have ongoing access to individuals who are on the move or looking to make a change. They can identify candidates who have not gotten around to submitting a résumé. And they can save you valuable time, time you may not have to devote to a recruiting process.

In conclusion, the organizations that can attract and retain talented individuals will be the ones that have learned to adapt to the radical changes in the way we work.