When Facing Concurrent Crises, Demand Outside Help

When Facing Concurrent Crises, Demand Outside Help

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Some things have always been true in my 26 years working with charities. Resources and support are always limited. And most fundraisers change roles at least once every few years.

The fact that these points have been true for decades only increases the severity of the forecast for the charitable sector in Canada when we consider recent studies out of Canada, the US, and the UK.

  • Employee Wellness: With the growing mental health crisis, it is no surprise that sector workers are experiencing burnout. A UK study of 400 charitable organizations found that 36% of workers are experiencing professional burnout and that 35% were at the formation stage of professional burnout. Only 29% of workers showed no signs of professional burnout. The study found that some groups were more vulnerable to burnout than others – including women and workers who have been in the sector for more than a year. Some contributing factors to burnout were toxic culture, corruption, and ingratitude.
  • Retention Woes: Experts tell us that a 10% turnover rate is something to aspire to. Too low, and you miss opportunities to hear fresh ideas and perspectives. Too high, and you won’t cultivate the in-house knowledge and experience to build a sustainable operation. Yet UK and US studies show an average turnover rate in the charitable sector of over 18%, with some organizations reporting turnover exceeding 40% in a post-pandemic exodus.
  • Recruitment Woes: The most recent Giving Report found that most charities are trying to navigate increasing demands with the same number or fewer workers as pre-pandemic. A UK study found that half of charitable organizations struggled to keep their current staff, and 60% struggled to recruit necessary workers (June 2023). Multiple studies found that the number of qualified applicants seeking to join the charitable sector has dropped significantly in the last two years.
  • Financial Woes: Funders, including governments and large foundations, are making strategic shifts in distributing funds. The number of individual donors is shrinking in Canada. Studies have found that 40% to 60% of organizations are concerned about their short-term and long-term fiscal sustainability.

Viewed together, the staffing, mental health, and financial crises paint a frightening picture of the state of the charitable sector. Yet, the sector employs 2.4 Million skilled and passionate workers who contribute $192 Billion to the Canadian economy (8.3% of Canada’s GDP.)

Charities need to be agile and responsive to remain sustainable. And they need to retain and develop skilled workers.

Without outside help, charities that run lean risk staff burnout, missed targets, and lost productivity. These are avoidable risks.

My advice is simple – get outside help.

To be more specific, I believe that all leaders should:

  • Communicate goals clearly and understand the work that goes into achieving them.
  • Know where the bottlenecks, bumps, skills gaps, and wins are within your organization. Ask how the current skills complement fits with the long-term goals of the organization.
  • Prioritize projects that will drive results, whether this year or in the future, if executed fully.
  • Work to retain stable, skilled workers. If a team member has the skills necessary to meet the goals of their day-to-day job, leaders should take steps to avoid costly burnout and voluntary turnover.

Skilled and expert consultants like Know Good Consulting can help your organization manage innovation and growth without negatively impacting your team.

A real-life example:

Our client was a mid-sized charity with revenue exceeding $15 Million annually. Nearly half of their revenue was from philanthropic sources and lacked contracts or multi-year gift agreements. The organization’s leadership set a goal to improve donor insights and stewardship.

The organization considered the time their team would invest in creating, deploying, and managing a program to gather and track donor insights and create a new stewardship grid and process. They found that they employed effective fundraisers who were not experts in creating, deploying, and managing insight and stewardship programs. While their team was willing to take on these new projects, the organization could not afford to redirect their team members for as long as needed to deliver on the goals.

I met with organizational leaders and quickly provided a clear work plan and schedule, as well as project pricing. The timeline was shorter and project costs were on par with the total cost of using internal team members. Because internal team members remained dedicated to fundraising during the project period, no momentum or revenue was lost.

In the end, this client benefited from a quick turnaround project to optimize their donor insights and stewardship without compromising their team’s progress with donors. They reported increased average donations and retention following our engagement, and their team members achieved their performance goals by staying focused on their work.