Uncategorized Apr 23, 2024

It’s no secret that recruitment and retention of talented people within the non-profit sector is challenging. Staff turnover in 2023 was at 9%[1] (working with non-profits for almost 30 years, I reckon it’s much higher). I believe it has much to do with three things: 1) insufficient support 2) little opportunity for advancement and 3) overwork.

Working in a non-profit is hard. Physically, intellectually and emotionally. People who choose to work for non-profits are deeply invested. They’re about impact, and when they can’t see it, or are being held back from achieving goals, it wounds them, profoundly. I know this as I hear it all too often from students.

So, if they feel unsupported, not nurtured and overworked, it’ll result in burnout, mental health issues and ultimately, yet another resignation.

Professional development - investing in people - is a relatively easy way to address all three issues. 


If you’re working within a big, functioning fundraising team, you may feel supported. Alas, many of our students are lone rangers, carrying the full weight of generating income for their organisation. If they’re tasked with corporate partnerships, they’re often isolated and misunderstood by colleagues (and sometimes) management. Being part of a community of people who are in a similar role and facing similar challenges, is essential. This is why it’s so important for non-profit leaders to encourage (and pay for) staff to attend conferences, seminars, workshops, networking groups and so on. It’s a chance to meet peers, subject matter experts and it’ll spark new ideas. We all know the best conversations happen at the water cooler or the bar, fostering new connections and collaborations.  


Changemakers rarely join a non-profit with a view to becoming the CEO. They’re driven by heart and purpose, not ego. But if someone is not being developed and cannot see a clear path for growth and advancement, it’s inevitable they’ll get stagnant, demotivated and resentful. Especially when they’re working their butts off. Professional development opportunities will help them to unlock more efficient ways of working, following tried & tested methods and so on. It will make them better at their job, and be ready to step up when the opportunity arises.  


It’s not just the volume of work, but often an organisations’ own inefficiencies mean a person must produce a result in an unrealistic timeframe. This is particularly common in corporate partnerships. Boards and management set an income target from corporates, without understanding that it’s a long-term strategy that will not reap results for 12-18 months. They also don’t realise there’s only two times a year to pitch to corporates (3 if you’re in NZ) and if you miss the opportune times, the door is closed. We see too many changemakers take on a new role, and they’re literally set up to fail. It breaks my heart, it really does. Overworked, undervalued, a mental wreck = burnout. The worst part? They leave not just their job, but the sector entirely. 

I’m not saying that professional development is the silver bullet to all a non-profits’ problems, that would be naive. But it’s time we recognised that people need to be nurtured. Not only will they stay longer, but they’ll also bring new skills, knowledge, and expertise back to the organisation, in turn making the organisation better able to fulfil on its Mission. Which is what it’s all about, right? We don’t plant seeds in a garden and expect them to grow without watering. Why do we expect that of people? 

Leaders of non-profits must cultivate a student mindset. Employees must embrace it. We live in an ever-changing world and as Darwin once said, it’s not the most intellectual or strongest of the species that survives, but the one that is best able to adapt to a changing environment.

We can only be adaptable if we keep asking questions, remain curious and continue learning, to cultivate a culture of innovation and creative problem solving.

Billionaire Richard Branson, whom I admire greatly as he left school at 15 just like me (that’s where our similarities end!) has said “The moment you stop learning, you stop growing. Approach life with a student mindset. Stay humble, learn from everyone and everything and never assume you know it all”.

It’s why we’re committed to offering high impact, low-cost training and many of our resources are free and accessible. We believe in changemakers and we have your back.  It’s also why we’re 150% behind Freedom Friday, a global movement dedicated to advocating for professional development in the For-Purpose sector. Freedom Friday is more than a day – it’s a pledge to allocate 2 hours per week per person for research, education, and training in our sector. Sign the pledge here!

We’ve also partnered with the Fundraising Nest – the amazing peeps behind this initiative – to provide resources and training to contribute towards those 2 hours of development, as well as a creating a hub for those corporate partnership lone rangers. The Fundraising Nest is all about empowering the for-purpose sector and we’re all for that! Watch this space….


Hailey Cavill-Jaspers


[1] Aust HR Institute Report Employment Outlook April 2023


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