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[VIDEO] How do you Keep your Good Fundraisers? Interview with Kishshana Palmer

Transcript

MT: Okay, everybody. Welcome. Today’s conversation with Kishshana is going to be about, basically, how do you keep your good people and what do you lose when they don’t stay?

Kishshana. You are so incredible. I don’t know if everybody here knows how incredible you are. So do you want to share with people kind of what you help organizations do, and why you’re such an expert on this topic?

KP: I’m an expert because Maz says so. Hi, everybody. Thank you for joining us today. My name is Kishshana Palmer. I help career professionals and entrepreneurs to grow their skills, to grow their teams, and to grow their revenue. That could be fundraising revenue or sales revenue, depending on what part of the world you’re in of money. I do this through coaching, through custom retreats and through speaking at conferences, webinars. I get in and I touch you and I feel you and I hug on you and I love on you and teach you some things.

I really have a soft spot for professional fundraisers. I am a recovering fundraiser, having led external affairs teams for well over 16 years at some really amazing social sector organizations. So I’m super excited to be here with you all. I’ve been in the trenches, you see, and learned some things. So my experience in talent management and leading some really amazing high performing teams and working with some fantastic boards and sometimes not fantastic boards had led me to our conversation today.

MT: You’re going to be speaking at the Fundraising Career Conference as well. What are you going to speak on at that?

KP: It’s really thinking about just like everything I talk about is about growing your teams, about bringing on professionals, about keeping your people, about stepping into that next level in your career. Whether you are an associate level stepping into management. You are a midlevel manager wanting to step up into senior management. You’re internal and you’re like, they put me behind this desk and I really belong outside with people, and you want to make that pivot. Just really thinking about what are the skills in order to be able to move away from being an individual contributor and really manage people? What does that look like?

So I think I made a really fancy title for it, Unstuck in the middle. Folks who are in the middle and they’re trying to get out and move up in your career. We’re going to be talking about that.

MT: When I was working full time as a fundraiser, that was something that was very frustrating to me, which was how do I move on up? What is missing? Why am I not getting these interviews?

KP: Absolutely, and there are some really clear things that we can be doing as professionals and practitioners. Then there are some things that are just out of our control. So I’m going to help walk you all through how to really kind of spot the difference so that you can use all the skills that we’re bringing together in the conference. Use all the amazing newsletters you send out, Maz, with career tidbits in your training about how to actually get the job you want and to source it before you get there.

I’m going to talk to you about how to understand and really see the difference between what you have in your purview of control, in your locus of control, and what’s external to you and how to navigate between the two. So I’m excited to dig into that during our conference.

MT: What do we lose when we lose a good fundraiser in our organization?

KP: I think that one of the things we lose immediately is sort of like the lifeblood of what it takes to grow our donor partners. Oftentimes, fundraisers, we know all the bits. If you’re a good fundraiser, whether you’re internal and you’re looking at the data, or you’re external and you’re looking at the people. You know all the grizzly bits. You know all the inside, all the trading secrets. Our ability to really get close with folks, to get folks to be endeared to us, to trust us very quickly so that we can co-create together and impact that mission together. That’s our skill.

So when we leave, all of that goodness goes with us. Even if you’re like only halfway a good fundraiser. The goodness still goes, because our skill is in building relationships, really. In transforming the relationships that we’re building and that we’re creating.

MT: Yes, and the data backs you up on this in the research, whether it’s the Underdeveloped Report, or the Donor Centered Leadership. We see that the numbers actually are really staggering when somebody leaves.  This is what the data says. It says it costs you $50,000 basically to lose a fundraiser straight away. Then if that position turns over for three years running, you’re losing exponentially more money and it’s not just in donor relationships. Though obviously we should care about that the most.

But it’s also in internal memory, as Kishshana said. Then if you have turnover for three years running, which is typical for a lot of us, you lose basically $200,000. That’s Donor Centered Leadership book from Cygnus Research. Over 30 years of research that shows this. This is just like new person coming on, onboarding, all of that stuff. So it’s a hidden cost that really bites us.

KP: One of the things that I see when organizations go out to hire is that they say, oh, we don’t really have a lot of money to hire. We want somebody to do 87 tasks. Pause. First of all, if you don’t have a lot of financial resources, because everybody is not out here for money. But let’s face it. Money is a tool. Right? That’s why we go out and fundraise for our organization, so the people who raise the money for us should be able to have good access to some good tools, right?

MT: Yeah, totally.

KP: But how do you position this opportunity in your organization on your team as a fundraiser so that money is one of the tools, but culture is another? And the benefits are another. Maybe there are some other things. You know, ability to work remotely. Ability to have PTO. The things that actually make life work.

I think that when fundraisers leave, sometimes they’re leaving people. But sometimes they’re leaving the foolishness. They’re like, first of all, I don’t care how much you pay me.

If I have to check my email at 3 AM in the morning, don’t get weekends off, don’t get the comp time that I’m supposed to get when I’ve worked yet another event and for another weekend and I’m showing up at program team events but they don’t have to come to ours, and, and, and, and. And this board member gets on my nerves and you micromanage me. I’m out. Not only are you leaving money on the table in terms of your inability to have new gifts come into the organization or to grow the donor family that you have, you’re also leaving money on the table by way of other fundraisers, other professionals in and out of our industry who might have really wanted to work at your organization. But then they see your turnover, and they see you’ve had four people in the last six years. They say no thanks!

You’re driving people off, friends. So the reason I didn’t start with money when you asked me that question is because that feels like the easy thing. There’s good data to back it up if you don’t believe it.

Fundraising Career Conference

The thing we don’t talk about is that we are not focusing enough on our people. We’re focused on everything else. Donors are important. Yes, they are. Loving on them? Absolutely. But we can’t love on donors if we’re stressed all the way the hell out. We can’t. You’re not taking care of yourself if your well is empty. You can’t pour that water into something else. So I think that that is not something we talk about enough when we talk about making sure that we have good people and we keep our unicorns, because it’s really woo-woo. You know, Maz, it’s like very soft and tender.

MT: Is it soft, though? Is it soft if this is how we’re losing $200,000? I mean, it’s good to treat people well. But if people only see money then let’s show them the money. Here’s the money you’re losing on top of the donor relationships, which is hard to measure. If we don’t treat our people well, then we can’t say we’re creating a better world.

When we keep our good fundraisers, what do we gain?

KP: One of the things we gain is trust. I think that there is a sense of organizational trust. There’s a sense of – it’s like when children know that if they look back, Mommy’s going to be there. Daddy’s going to be there. They’re like more apt to go take more risks initially. I don’t think donors are children, but it’s in the same way. If we know that our fundraiser is going to be there when we touch back, we feel good about that when somebody asks us for an increased gift.

If we know they’re going to be there when we touch back, we feel good about taking a leap into a new program or idea, into a new comprehensive or capital campaign, into a new thing. Because, oh yes, I am used to Maz and Kish. I know they’re going to be there. I’m used to Jane. I’m used to Leann. I’m used to Tessa. I’m calling y’all out on the line. I love you guys. I’m used to this. So that means that I can take those bigger leaps. So I think that’s one of the things we gain. I also think that we gain a really good crew of ambassadors because when you have fundraisers that stay, and not just stay because they can get a check on the 15th and the 30th.

But stay because they are awesome at what they do. They believe in the mission. They believe in inviting people into the mission. They can see their way to transformational gifts, whatever that means for that organization. That, to me, what we gain is the magic. Right? That’s when we see missions on fire. Explosive growth. Replication if that’s your organizational strategy. Whatever your organizational strategy is, when you have fundraisers who can stay in and stay in the pocket and really focus to be able to get their work done and do it well. Then we see different types of growth and sustainability. Not just survival for organizations.

MT: Okay, you’ve got your unicorn. This fundraiser is just on fire, coordinating teams of volunteers or interns and really working the system of the strengths. What do you do now? Because you can’t pay them $100,000 a year and you want to keep them. What do you do?

KP: We don’t give enough credence to nonfinancial assets within an organization. What are some other types of things that would make life better for that fundraiser, therefore it would make that fundraiser want to work harder? Many of us are intrinsically motivated, but everybody needs a good push. So what are the assets that you have as an organization that are the good push? Is it good health insurance? Is it a good leave system? Is it flexibility in time? You know, is it autonomy around task? Is it really well done social things for the organization?

Like, how do you create those non-financial benefits that may have some marginal costs for the organization, but in actuality don’t have huge costs overall? Or they’re well offset, the money you’d spend on those benefits, by folks staying and not losing $50,000 instantly and so forth and so on. Right? Like you spend a couple thousand here. You save several hundred thousand here. That’s worth it. So are we able to have those types of conversations? Are our teams in HR and in operation and in finance savvy enough and flexible enough to start to have those conversations for our fundraisers and for our organizations period?

Oftentimes we kind of get into our work tunnel. I do my job. I move this here to here. I do this here to here and there’s no flex in the terms of the way we think. But if you’re having an attrition challenge in your fundraising team, what are the conversations that we’re having with other teams and other lines of the nonprofit or the business that influence our ability to have our people stay? Can we have those conversations? Are those the types of things that come up at senior team meetings? What are we talking about?

Those are some of the things I would immediately be thinking about. One of the big things I did on my team, just to give an example. I ran my teams. My teams were pretty big, 12 to 15 people across the country. Mostly remote. So you have to do some very different things when your team is remote and I was very clear about mental and physical health. Mind you, I’m not a body builder and I got some curves, y’all. Okay? I have some woobly bits, folks. I’m working on it. But I have some woobly bits. I’m very clear. I love Pilates. That’s my luxury. I had a staff member who was a runner, another one who was into Pilates and yoga, another one who played basketball.

Fundraising Career Conference

One of them just liked to go for walks and hikes. I made sure that was on their calendar. I played no games. In fact, you would be getting crap from me if I saw you were blowing off your yoga class. Why? Because we travel across the country. We work on overnight flights. We sometimes have to run 14 hour events. We sometimes can’t take PTO for three months at a time because of the amount of events and visits and site visits and things that have to happen.

So the least you can do for yourself is take care of yourself in that day to day time, and that meant the world to me. Because I was so insistent on it, the way that it translated to my team was, Kishshana really cares about us and our mental health. She’s not playing with us. And they got their little reprieve. What did that cost me? So we can’t have calls today from 2:00 to 3:00. Great. We can have them at 3:15. It’s going to be okay. Every now and again we knew we had to do something with a donor or we had a board meeting to prep for and it was my team’s responsibility to plan accordingly so they could get their stuff in.

That just was really important to me. That’s not financial, right? That’s actually giving them their life back. But it was a small gesture where folks are like, we’re just going to do whatever she says because she has our back. So what are the ways that you all, as managers, and as leaders in your organization, are making sure that your team members and particularly your fundraisers are saying to themselves, she has my back? He has my back? It looks different to different people. Right? So that’s why we can’t be very prescriptive. I can be more general and give examples. But what does that mean for your folks? I think that’s really important to, well, ask those questions. But push yourself to answer.

MT: So here’s a person that I talked to a couple years ago. He was getting paid basically what I was getting paid ten years ago for a development manager role. Like $35,000 a year. He went and asked for a raise and he went and asked for a job title change and his boss said no to both. He wanted to be called development director. So he quit.

Would it have been okay for his boss to just change his title? That doesn’t cost anything. But would that have like bitten them later? If your person wants a title change, is that a good thing? Can you do that?

KP: Let’s think about what the title change does. When you hear development associate, for most donors, they wonder, Where’s your boss? Part of being able to get in the door and get somebody to the point where you can cultivate them and say yes is to empower them to do so. The reality is, titles matter, y’all. They just do. If you’re really being honest, as a manager, you should really be setting up your team member for when they move on. If you know that they cannot move up within your organization, then there should be some real transparent conversations about what it’s going to take for them to stay.

If money is not the thing, what else can we talk about? What would they need in order to be prepared to leave and leave well? Because you want them to leave systems in place. You want them to leave codified processes. You want them to be able to want to participate in bringing on a new person, to recommend. Maybe part of their role as DOD now is that they’ve got to start to seek out folks who would step into that role at a later date and make sure the network and the candidate pool is bigger.

MT: Kishshana, you’re speaking to my soul and I wish that I worked for you. Because we know the fish rots from the head. So if you’ve got bad culture, you need to be at the top being like, no, you need to take your yoga class or whatever it is. I love that. I wish I had like ten more bosses like that, I could refer people to. You know?

KP: Yeah. Every time I talk about this in big sessions, folks sort of roll their eyes and come quietly tell me my office is chaotic. I’m like, let’s talk about why your office is chaotic and where are the slices in space of time. Because I guarantee you, if your office is chaotic, folk are on Facebook on their phone or on the desktop, wasting time because they don’t want to be there. So can we talk about ways to rework that so that folks want to be there, want to be excited about their work they are doing? Want to be able to carve out the time to get the stuff done. How can we work more efficiently?

And effectively. Not just efficiently because there are lots of organizations that are quite efficient. Even if their model is Maz does everything.

MT: It’s true.

Fundraising Career Conference

KP: But is that effective? Then there’s the fact that all of us in some way, shape, or form are unicorns in our work. Meaning that we are bright and special and working it. We have our strength on Friend Street. But we’re not getting fed right. We’re not being nurtured properly and we don’t know how to ask for it in the ways the person we’re ask for can hear. If we’re on the listening end, we are so busy and caught up in busy that we’re not slowing down enough to really be plugged in.

So I think that there are lots of challenges that are sort of pressing on why folks are leaving. Why we’re not getting our really talented people to stay or even come, that don’t have anything to do with money. I think money is like a pimple and we’re not talking about the cause. What’s giving you that acne?

MT: What you’re reminding me of, Kishshana, is what Peter Drury (He’s the development director at a Seattle hospital in a foundation) talked about at last year’s career conference which is, I make sure that I sit down with my person at my office from day one. He said, I make sure that my people know that even though it’s their first day or their first week or their first month, I want them to leave and succeed when they leave. I know this isn’t a forever job for them. So I’m going to have that conversation with them. What can we do to help you rise here? Then what can we do to help you in your career goals, whatever those are? Let’s talk about that. It’s like having that transparency, instead of just being like, oh, you’re going to stay here forever and be our little slave. It’s like you care about me as a person, not just a source of money.

KP: Right. That’s the thing. All the articles I see right now, that are coming out, are talking about “love on your donors.” You’re not doing enough. You’re not being more careful. You’re not being more thoughtful. You’re not, you’re not, you’re not. There is a lot of merit to many of the writers because it’s true. We do get caught up in just trying to get the stuff done and we don’t do the detail that we know we need to do. But we also don’t put that same kind of care and feeding into our fundraisers. So I think that when folk come to conferences, they come to conferences tired, exhausted. They want to learn but they’re heavy.

So how do you learn, absorb, and then go back into chaos? Chaos could mean an event that’s due in two days. You were able to get off two days to go to this conference but you got 30 meetings you were able to push off. So you’re not able to implement immediately what you’re doing. If we’re just teaching the what at conferences and sometimes the why, but not enough how – implementable how – then we’re stuck. That’s why I love the fundraising career conference because I feel like we don’t just get the what. You know I wouldn’t be a part of it, Maz, if we couldn’t get some how.

MT: Oh, yeah.

KP: We get the actual how where folks walk away and they go, that nugget there, truth. Then I can go do it. I feel like I can go do it and I see my way of doing it immediately if I just try this one thing and try it again and try it again. So that’s the thing that I love about the career conference is that everybody who comes to the table to teach has that mindset. So you actually leave after your three days. Here are the areas I thought I had to work on. Actually here are the areas I’m going to be working on and here’s how. I have my plan. I think that that has to happen at more conferences with more places and more spaces so that people can actually really dig in to invest in themselves. Then bring that back to the team.

MT: Yes, 100 percent. You know, I’m really excited about this because I’ve been to many other fundraising conferences and I’ve seen them having maybe one session on careers. Maybe it was on the Myers Briggs. I don’t see anybody doing the nuts and bolts of resumes, cover letters, interview skills. But then also I don’t see the boundaries sessions that we’ve had. I don’t see sessions like yours, Kishshana. Moving from middle management to higher level. What I love about you is you have this VP level experience. You’re not just talking. You’ve done it. That makes you so valuable in this particular topic.

So I’m super psyched for your session but also, I wanted to just tell people about the conference. We are going to be starting April 2, 4, and 6. It will be all recorded for you as well. Kishshana, is there anything else you’d like to say?

KP: Yeah. I just want to say as you’re thinking about your next move, whether it’s a move within your organization or it’s within a move outside your organization, or movement for your team. Really be thinking about how do I focus on the individuals who make up that team, one. How do I focus on the core competencies necessary for folks in this role, regardless of who they are, to be successful? And what kind of things can I put in reserve?

If you look back behind me, can you see it? I have my gumball machine. What are the treats? What are the things that you have in your management treat box that you can pull out because you’re learning and understanding your team members and you know you need things to motivate them and to get them to the next thing?

If you’re stuck doing those things, call me. Talk to me. That’s what I do. That’s my specialty. I get teams moving. Managers making sure they understand how to do that day to day tactical work so that they can be better managers and better individual contributors as well? So if that’s your jam, bit.ly/callkish. It’s that simple.

MT: Love it. You guys should do this because she has taken teams from making $100,000 with events to making over $300,000 with an event just by working her magic, getting the right people in the right jobs despite their titles. She has the goods. So you should call her. Also, if we have any questions from the audience right now. We have a lot of people on here. Anybody want to just put it in the chat? What is a question you might have for Kishshana in the last couple minutes here?

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