They’re calling it “The Great Resignation.” Millions of folks who have worked from home productively through the pandemic aren’t ready to give up their new quality of life for employers who will require them to go back to an office. According to the US Labor Department, a record 4 million people quit their jobs – and that’s just this past April.
For some professions it’s really not an option. It’s difficult for a surgeon and her team not to be in the presence of the patient, although not impossible, apparently.
But for fundraising, it’s a no-brainer. Old school ways of insisting that everyone has to be in the office all the time are losing their credibility. And for good reasons.
Keeping great staff
Staff retention, particularly for talented frontline fundraisers, is a perennial problem. When the average tenure of a fundraiser is 18 months and the average time from hello to major gift is 2 years, it doesn’t take a math degree to see that there’s an inherent problem in that equation. Offering flexibility gives your nonprofit a strategic staff retention advantage, and not just for frontline fundraisers, but for the rest of the team as well. Losing a talented data entry officer, or a campaign strategist, or insightful prospect development pro leaves a huge gap, creates recruiting and onboarding costs, and leaves you with weeks or months of lost opportunities.
The myth that you can’t foster a sense of team or build relationships with donors remotely is nonsense. You just have to create an infrastructure that supports connection, and encourage everything you can that helps people bridge those distances in large groups and small pods. Just because colleagues or fundraisers and donors are not in the same room doesn’t mean the relationships they build are any less meaningful.
Our team is 22 strong and growing, and we’ve been a remote company since 2005. I feel lucky that we have lots of experience in successfully working from home, but that doesn’t mean we’re not constantly thinking about ways to better support communication and foster that sense of team. It’s never perfect, but keeping an open mind and experimenting with the technology available are two secrets to our success.
One example I’ve mentioned before: we use Zoom for group and side chats. We have an all-team chat room which is basically like the running commentary going on in any open-plan office, except in silent mode.
On any given day there will be discussion of an interesting article, a mega donation, some good-natured teasing, celebration of a work anniversary or birthday (love the Zoom rain of cakes!), lots of gifs, really bad puns, kid pictures, puppy pictures, cake pictures…it’s a lot like being in an office. Except kind of better, somehow. Everyone’s in on the joke. Nobody’s left out.
We also have project-specific and topic-specific chat rooms, like the one created in March 2020 for the parents on the team they dubbed “New Reality.” HBG parents banded together in that room to provide advice, sanity, and a helpline early on in the pandemic when they were figuring out home-schooling and activities to keep kids occupied during the work day.
The group continues to be active during the pandemic’s long tail. “I like hearing about how my colleagues have navigated challenging situations with their families when everything is in flux” shared Kristina. Jen added: “As difficult as it was at times finding a balance between work and being a parent, I took comfort in knowing not only that others on the team were in the same situation, but that they were always readily available to listen if (when) I started to feel overwhelmed.”
Besides Zoom, we also encourage relationships by partnering new employees with a buddy who isn’t their supervisor – someone they can ask those real questions as they find their way around their new job. For prospecting projects, we ask that the lead consultant gather a ‘Council of Three’ to help brainstorm ideas before beginning. And we mix-and-match small teams to work with clients on special projects so that everyone has a chance to work closely with others they might not have worked with before.
And finally, we do fun non-work stuff, too. For example, Jayme is our Manager of Fun Swaps. She’s organized swaps of coffee, pastries, and jams-and-sauces – and it’s a little like getting a Secret Santa care package. You delight in packaging goodies up for someone (or ordering them to be delivered) and then receiving them from someone else. Not everyone participates in each swap, but they’re a great way for us to get to know each other through our favorite things.
What about building strong donor relationships – virtually?
Think you can’t forge real relationships with donors when you work remotely? I attended the RAISE conference last week by Evertrue, and when I saw this video telling the story of a connection built by a donor experience officer (DXO) with a prospect who became a donor because of their virtual relationship, I knew that technology has gotten us to the place where we can create meaningful donor relationships and experiences beyond just the top of the donor pyramid.
Not only did they forge a strong bond, but the proof of concept also created a new job, and you can’t help but smile when you watch it. (Full disclosure: I’m not an Evertrue client or partner and they didn’t pay me to write this. I think their DXO concept is forward-thinking for this new remote world we’re living in.)
Using a combination of technology that helps us communicate and encouraging and supporting a strong personal work ethic, we can build and expand our donor-facing teams with a new corps of fundraisers making those connections and provide new leads for the prospect development team to discover, research, rate, and assign into portfolios.
Side benefits to a remote team
As I think about other incidental benefits that remote work brings that help retain employees (like quality of life) one thing springs to mind that’s a major benefit to the employer: office space. Chances are good we won’t need as much of it anymore going forward, and it’s a major budget sink hole.
Wouldn’t you rather put the office-rental budget line toward hiring staff, funding initiatives, sending people to a conference where they learn something, providing benefits that help retain staff, buying resources for your team to be more efficient, doing a once-a-year all-staff blowout picnic… instead? Maybe the space you need for essential on-site work or shared desks could be a third or a quarter of the size. What could you accomplish with that budget savings?
There are lots of ways to turn the reality of remote work into an advantage for your department and your nonprofit. If others are terminating creative employees because they choose not to work in an office, your potential talent pool will grow and so will your nonprofit’s opportunities for innovation.