The Job Market for Fundraisers Is Even Hotter Than Usual
Katy Wafle spent the past six-and-a-half years raising money for a nonprofit musical performance venue in Berkeley, California. Like so many arts organizations, the pandemic upended the group’s programming. “It was tough for those of us fundraising in performing arts because all of a sudden we were the only revenue stream for our organizations,” Wafle said.
As some of her colleagues were laid off, she absorbed other job responsibilities and took on the role of interim managing editor of the organization. Wafle negotiated a pay increase that allowed her to cover the cost of an office and child care for her two elementary school-aged kids who at the time were at home. That support allowed her juggle these added job responsibilities, but some fundraisers had to pull back from their roles to take on more caregiving responsibilities. For a variety of reasons, the nonprofit workforce employs an
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Katy Wafle spent the past six-and-a-half years raising money for a nonprofit musical performance venue in Berkeley, Calif. Like so many arts organizations, the pandemic upended the group’s programming. “It was tough for those of us fundraising in performing arts because all of a sudden we were the only revenue stream for our organizations,” Wafle says.
As some of her colleagues were laid off, she absorbed other job responsibilities and took on the role of interim managing director of the organization. Wafle negotiated a pay increase and requested to work in the nonprofit’s offices, which had been closed up to that point. She made it clear she could not work full time until she secured child care for her two elementary school-age kids who were at home at the time. Once she got that support, she was able to juggle the added job responsibilities, but some fundraisers had to pull back from their roles to take on more care-giving responsibilities.
For a variety of reasons, the nonprofit work force employs an estimated 565,000 fewer people than it did before Covid-19 struck. Hiring slowed at many nonprofits in the first year of the pandemic. Some organizations had to cut back sharply, laying off staff or putting a freeze on new hires and promotions.
As the public-health crisis stretches on, hiring freezes have largely thawed. And demand for talented fundraisers is as high as ever.
“The recruiting market’s on fire right now,” says Victoria Silverman, CEO of Cook Silverman, an executive search firm that serves primarily West Coast nonprofits. “We’re seeing almost a doubling of the positions available this year.”
Development professionals have leverage right now because of the tremendous number of open positions, she says. And they don’t have to settle for just any job. “Talented fundraisers have an opportunity to choose organizations where the mission and values really resonate with them.”
Jack Gorman, who leads the advancement practice at the recruiting firm Isaacson, Miller, saw many organizations restart job searches toward the end of last year. “Things really picked up in the fourth quarter of 2020, and they have not abated,” he says. “It’s incredibly busy.”
(Learn what your organization can do to hang on to talented fundraisers in a hot job market.)
While some sectors of the economy are experiencing what’s been dubbed “the great resignation,” there’s always been a fair amount of movement in the fundraising world.
Like a lot of development professionals, Wafle looks at job openings often. They typically verify that she’s in the right position and should stay put, she says. But when she saw an opening for director of philanthropy at the Oakland Museum — a dream job at an organization she had long admired — she threw her hat into the ring.
Timing was everything. “If the Oakland Museum job opening had come a year ago, I wouldn’t have gone for it because I wouldn’t have had the capacity,” she says. Now that schools in her neighborhood have reopened, she’s in a place where she can dive into something new.
Wafle is just a few weeks into her new role. Her fundraising colleagues are still working remotely, but she’s itching to get into the office soon — at least a few days a week.
“Particularly in the arts world, we want to see the work that we’re raising money to produce. We want to see visitors in the museum and the art on the wall,” she says. “The act of being at work feeds our souls and feeds our reason for being there.”
Remote Work Changes Recruiting
For many of Gorman’s nonprofit clients, remote work was a nonstarter before the pandemic. Now most of them are embracing a long-term remote or hybrid approach, he says. That’s helping nonprofits expand candidate pools. “It has really affected our ability to identify and recruit more diverse talent,” Gorman says.
That’s the case at the Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research institute with 22 people on its development team. Bryan Robinson began his role there as vice president of advancement in July 2020 and relocated to Bar Harbor, Maine, where the organization has an office.
But being on site is no longer a requirement for all fundraising roles. “We have a team diffused across the country from California to Maine down to Florida, and it’s working quite well,” Robinson says.
When the organization started recruiting for its first diversity giving officer, it was open to candidates who had no intention of relocating.
After a national search, Jackson Laboratory hired Sam Graddy, an Atlanta-based veteran fundraiser. Graddy had spent almost seven years as a major gifts officer at Habitat for Humanity International before he was recruited by Gorman’s firm.
His connection to the mission was a major draw, he says. In his new job, Graddy focuses on attracting support for researchers with diverse backgrounds and for research into health disparities within communities of color. He also serves as a resource for fundraising colleagues as they navigate donor conversations related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sciences.
But the flexibility on location was also key, he says. “The role that I play in my community here is important to me, and at this stage in the game, I was not willing to relocate,” Graddy says. “I probably have more fundraising years behind me than I do ahead of me. The fact that I didn’t have to move and I could work remotely was crucial in the decision-making process.”
Early-Career Talent Is Hard to Find
Sam Regonini was a couple years into his first full-time fundraising job when the pandemic hit. Raising money for a nonprofit hospital system — Seton Healthcare Family — felt meaningful and was an easy sell to donors during the health crisis, he says. But Regonini, now 30, was in an entry-level annual giving role and wanted a position with more autonomy.
When the hospital system instituted a hiring and promotion freeze in the spring of 2020, he realized he might have to look for work elsewhere if he wanted to make a career move in the next year.
Regonini lives in San Marcos, Tex., with his young family. Moving wasn’t an option, so he started looking around in nearby Austin and San Antonio. He interviewed at four organizations before landing a job as assistant director of annual giving at Texas State University.
All in all, it’s been a good move, he says. He’s honing his skills and getting some new professional experiences. He’s making more money and has a more senior title. And he’s starting to see his work pay off.
In some regions, recruiting early-career professionals has been more challenging.
Eryn Shugart, donor advisement officer at the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, hired a development associate in June. “We received a lot of resumes, but only two people had any development skills whatsoever,” she says. “It seems like there are more development jobs than there are people with the skills to do a good job.”
It doesn’t help that the cost of living in Santa Barbara is high. “It’s hard for nonprofits — especially smaller nonprofits — to pay a competitive enough wage for someone to live here.” That’s nothing new, she says, but the pandemic has exacerbated the trend.
That’s been a challenge for Emma Moon, the new development director at SFJazz, a San Francisco music venue. Moon is building a fundraising team from the ground up and has hired seven fundraisers so far.
As she began recruiting, she saw that many experienced fundraisers were stepping back to assess their career options. “Those with highly sought-after experience and knowledge are being heavily recruited,” she wrote in an email. “I had to be creative and in some cases consider folks from outside the arts industry or even outside of the nonprofit sector to secure future talent.”
Rush to Staff Up
Some institutions are on hiring sprees, gearing up for major fundraising drives or investing resources in projects that have been on the back burner.
Pamella Henson started as executive vice chancellor for university advancement at Washington University in St. Louis in January 2019, not long after it completed a nearly $3.4 billion campaign. At the time, the university employed about 320 fundraising staff members.
Around that time, the advancement department brought in an outside firm to assess how it could reorganize its fundraising programs and improve its back-office operations to engage donors in the future. The university had a smaller advancement team than some of its peers. Now it’s working to increase the size of the staff raising money for the medical school, soliciting leadership gifts, and cultivating donors. It’s also building teams focused on data analytics to support frontline fundraisers and helping the university transition to a new database.
A hiring freeze early in the pandemic briefly delayed the plan, but since then the university has been recruiting at a fast clip. Over the next three to four years, Henson hopes to expand the advancement team to as many as 450 people.
For all of the challenges of the pandemic, the last year and a half gave staff members a chance to help reimagine their work, Henson says. “The changes we made as a department really fueled a lot of interest and excitement about what we’re doing.”