National Philanthropy Day Reflections

Why National Philanthropy Day?

In 1986, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation recognizing November 15 as National Philanthropy Day (NPD). Since then, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has been celebrating the philanthropic contributions of individuals, foundations, and businesses to better our world. AFP Chapters around the world observe this special day to recognize how philanthropy enriches our community.

Striving to Celebrate NPD

Even though I have been in the nonprofit world since 1999, NPD wasn’t on my radar until I become an active member of my local AFP Chapter (AFP Michiana, woot, woot). Each year, our chapter commemorates NPD with an in-depth professional development seminar followed by an awards luncheon. At the luncheon, we celebrate the generous philanthropists in our community whom local nonprofit leaders nominated. Sadly, each year, we’ve struggled to receive nominations; we just haven’t known how to inspire the nonprofit community to nominate their active philanthropists.

A Crisis in the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit community is facing a crisis. We are losing our most dedicated philanthropists: our staff. Nonprofit leaders are having a difficult time cultivating the pipeline of talent. This is not a new phenomenon: when I first entered the nonprofit world, I found that dedicated and successful fundraisers stayed at an organization, on average, for eighteen to twenty-four months. I was guilty of doing this – I always went to an organization because I was passionate about their mission, but if I were to be honest, it was also because I was burned out from my current organization, and the grass looked greener at the other organization. They always had more resources (staff and funds) than my current nonprofit. However, even with more resources, I was getting burned out, and I wasn’t the only one.

Today, instead of just leaving one nonprofit for another after eighteen months, an increasing number of fundraisers are leaving the nonprofit sector for good! The burnout, dissatisfaction, and frustration that our nonprofit staff is experiencing is too high. Rather than suffer through, they are choosing to walk away from a mission that they care about and work in the for-profit sector instead. We should be alarmed by this! I believe there are two BIG reasons why nonprofit fundraisers are leaving the sector.

Reasons For the Crisis

Professional DevelopmentFirst of all, we aren’t investing in development opportunities for our staff, and we should be. Nonprofit staff need to have the opportunity to learn and grow. Professional development, such as classes and conferences, helps to stimulate new and innovative ideas. Plus, ongoing training with a coach or mentor will help nonprofits cultivate their leadership pipeline.

The second reason for this nonprofit crisis is that we aren’t showing our 

appreciation for our  greatest philanthropists, our staff. These individuals chose to work in the nonprofit sector because they believe in our mission and the work that we do. Sadly, we frequently forget to show our appreciation for the good work that they do. When staff members

 pull long days (and sometimes long nights), too often we don’t recognize them for their efforts. We might not be able to compensate our staff at the same rate as for-profit industries, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking the time to thank them for all that they are doing.

How to Solve the Crisis

If we are going to stop nonprofit staff members from leaving the nonprofit sector altogether, we need to change our mindset on how we run our organization. Our greatest philanthropists deserve to have a living wage. We need to make sure that job descriptions and goals are realistic. Just because we don’t have the funds to hire several positions doesn’t mean we can pile all those jobs onto one individual.

Nonprofits are doing good in this world, and we should be investing in our missions. We need to make sure that professional development is in the budget and encourage our staff members to take advantage of it. By treating our staff exceptionally well, we will be strengthening their commitment to the sector and cultivating our leadership pipeline. Let’s ensure that our staff has the time to enjoy life and to grow professionally, all while working in the nonprofit sector.

If we continue to lose our committed staff members, what will our world look like? I don’t even want to think about it. So this National Philanthropy Day, show your appreciation to the many nonprofit staff that you know. Thank them for the work that they’re doing. Ask them how it’s going, and actively listen to what they are saying. Let’s keep our staff from leaving the sector, and let’s make sure that our greatest philanthropists know that they are appreciated each and every day.

Happy National Philanthropy Day!


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