How to Set Up Successful Staff Transitions in Your Development Department

Shifts in staffing can impact donor relationships. By taking thoughtful steps to steward donors through these periods, you can keep connections strong.

Members of fundraising teams have been found to stay in their roles for an average of just 16 months. While there are steps your nonprofit can take to mitigate some of this turnover, anticipating staffing changes in your development department allows you to plan for smoother transitions during times of change.

How you handle shifts in staffing impacts donor relationships. By taking thoughtful steps to steward donors through these periods, you can keep donor connections strong. Below, we cover five steps to ensure a successful succession plan for your development department.

1. Clearly Document Roles and Responsibilities

Smooth transitions start by knowing all the tasks your current employees cover. When you know exactly what each development team member is responsible for, you can ensure nothing falls through the cracks as you're onboarding a new fundraiser.

Keep detailed job descriptions in your standard operating procedure (SOP) and plan to review and update them at least annually for any changes. Additionally, before staff leave, have them review their list of responsibilities and add anything that might be missing.

You can also plan in advance for which staff will take over particular roles during the time between your previous employee’s tenure and your next hire’s start date. List these succession planning details in your SOP to guide you when needed.

2. Acknowledge the Transition and Keep Communication Open

Don’t leave donors in the dark during staff changes. If their gift officer is leaving, let them know the transition is coming and who they can reach out to with questions or concerns in the interim. Make sure they know what to expect next and how long the transition might take.

If possible, have your departing fundraiser tell donors directly about their job change. This adds a personal touch to the connection, showing your donors that these relationships are something you have cared about and continue to care about. Departing staff members can thank donors for their support over the years and encourage them to continue their generosity with the incoming point of contact.

3. Keep Detailed Records of Stewardship Actions With Donors

Good data helps your transition staff and your incoming development director pick up where your former staff left off. Keep notes in a donor database like Instil on topics, such as a donor’s:

  • Favorite programs or initiatives at your nonprofit
  • Past giving history and any intentions for future giving
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Favorite discussion topics
  • Family members
  • Community connections
  • Professional background
  • Favorite lunch spot

Knowing these key donor tidbits can help restore the relationship building process quickly with your new hire. Since all of your staff can access Instil, including on-the-go thanks to its mobile-friendly platform, it offers an easy and centralized solution for managing staff transitions.

4. Have an Action Plan for Connecting With Top Donors

Always keep a list of your top donors and prospects and review this regularly with your development team. When there’s a staffing transition, this cohort should be your first point of action. 

Gather your transition team to run through the list and determine next steps for each individual on the list. Since these top supporters are likely used to more frequent contact from a gift officer, you want to maintain that cadence so they know you haven’t forgotten them. 

Ideally, these supporters have formed connections with other staff at your nonprofit over the course of their relationship with your cause. Consider connecting them with someone they already know during the interim phase. This person can then provide a warm handoff to your new hire once they’re onboarded.

5. Promote Internal Talent When Possible

Internal staff hires and promotions are less costly than new external hires. They also come with built-in donor relationships and an understanding of your operations. One of the best ways to prepare for smooth staff transitions in your development department is to always cultivate your staff to become qualified for promotions and new career challenges.

One of the job responsibilities for your development team’s top leadership should be staff development and succession planning. This prevents turnover by keeping staff engaged in their careers while also developing them to fill needed roles that may arise. Your top leadership can help fill gaps in high-level development team positions if they decide to move on from your organization or otherwise retire from their role.

Plan for Staff Transitions to Ensure Minimal Impact on Donor Relationships

Staff turnover happens. Preparing for this reality strengthens your donor relationships by showing donors that you have solid operations and policies in place. It also ensures they are swiftly connected to a new point of contact who has the necessary information to continue to nurture a personal relationship with them.

Instil can help your development team during times of transition by serving as a comprehensive donor database that lets you see where your donor relationships stand at any given time. Contact us for a demo today and for information on how you can strengthen your development team using the right nonprofit software.


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