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Nonprofit Moneyball - Ways To Discover New Talent To Hit Your Fundraising Goals

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

The Moneyball thesis is simple. By using statistical analysis, small-market baseball teams can challenge for success by accruing assets that are undervalued or overlooked by other teams (and selling ones that are overvalued).

Through a nonprofit fundraising lens this thesis could be compared to a small organization regularly securing large donations that have traditionally been captured by larger national entities and institutions such as the Red Cross, Cancer Society or Universities. 

In today’s society where nonprofit sector information is more accessible and transparent than ever before, we argue that it’s not just the mission of the more established charities that yield larger donations. There are considerable disparities at play and one of them is the ability to secure the very best in fundraising talent. 

Fundraising for smaller organizations is tough. You are more often than not juggling multiple hats, you are inversely disadvantaged through your own success - through higher expectations, having to raise more funds to keep up with service demand etc - and when there are lean spells you are the first to feel the pressure from those above.

Compounding the issues for those raising money for small nonprofit organizations is that your donor base and pipelines are shallower than larger organizations in your space, your organizations traditionally only have enough liquidity to last a month and a half if the funding dries up and that nonprofit salaries are modest at best in a time when costs of living are far outpacing wage growth and regular CPI increases.

In short, those fundraising for entities with an annual budget of below $1,000,000 have the constant threat of job insecurity, are (probably) underpaid, and your chances of exceeding your fundraising expectations are stacked against you as you are competing against development teams of 5+ people and that’s not even beginning to include the marketing, event and research support these organizations have the luxury of tapping in to.

Larger organizations have the ability to pay higher exempt salaries, have more assets available to support your success and have the financial stability to be able to fundraise for the future, patiently cultivating major gifts and building endowments, whereas a large proportion of groups are still scraping enough to pay bills acquired 6 months ago.

Moneyball is definitely a defining story line for the professionalization of sports. Statistical analysis has now become a key driver for progress in professional major league franchises, with organizations looking for any edge they can get as they chase sporting immortality.

This also rings true in other sectors, for example, to a financial economist using stats makes it possible to find undervalued stocks and bonds. So why are we so slow on the uptake here in regards to using additional data points to assist with talent identification in fundraising?

Creating an innovative nonprofit is difficult without the right talent. Hiring the right employees for the right roles at the right time is critical, and it requires good resource management to do it. That’s why we need to lean more on HR data and in the future look to new approaches and tools to help with our decision making. Here we break down some simple approaches nonprofits can be doing now to start identifying new talent and compete for a greater slice of that fundraising pie.

LOOK BEYOND THE STATUS QUO: With a deeper bench of skills, organizations can tackle the most complex social problems. But where does HR find, and how does it attract this new generation of nonprofit game changers? The great news is you don’t have to look that far because there are literally hundreds of them working in your communities on a seasonal basis. But who are they? Community organizers and political field staff are well-versed in the importance of metrics with a strong sense of what the end goal is. These emerging leaders also work tirelessly around the clock on cause-based issues, are large in number and are readily available (especially post-campaign). They are well-connected, hardworking and a jack of all trades. Their challenge, however, is that they probably don’t hit all the job pre-requisites and that’s where the problem lies. How do we help nonprofit organizations identify these transferable skills via the application process and ultimately look outside the box to take a risk on them?

EMPOWER YOUR HR TEAM: Recent nonprofit benchmark reports have shown that nearly half of the human resource executive staff surveyed identified an increase in their overall organizational influence – predominantly through more recognition by top-level executives that HR plays an integral role in executing an organization's mission. This represents a big opportunity for nonprofits and both public and private foundations to increase their capacity, be more impactful and achieve their goals through the identification and development of talented staff. As the interpretation of social justice moves away from its previous connotation of transferring wealth to one of building social infrastructure to help all members of society reach their potential, we are also seeing a parallel shift from purely program-based philanthropy to a campaign-like approach where engaging and building nontraditional constituencies and developing cross sector partnerships are the key to delivering tangible outcomes to those they seek to serve. The study, which was undertaken by the consultancy Nonprofit HR, reveals a renewed acknowledgement of HR’s role in achieving organizational success and on further reflection, its ability to equip organizations with new talent that will be able to adapt to the rapidly changing philanthropic sector.

INCLUSIVE RECRUITING: The rigidity of minimum qualifications is slowly shifting as the modern workforce evolves, with credentialing fast replacing the prestige of which college you went to and what your degree specialization was. However, we still see plenty of research that shows bias in how job descriptions are both drafted and reviewed, and this has to be a focus on ongoing change to ensure equality of opportunity in the job market. Many folks read job descriptions and opt out of applying as they don’t ‘see themselves’ in that role or discredit their chances before they have even applied. This is still far to frequent to think and continues to see unequal pay for women and people of color. It’s truly a systemic issue and the immediate medicine for this is to review the language of the role and ensure things such as educational requirements are on a level par with relevant career experience.

LOOK BEYOND YOUR NETWORK: Further to making your job descriptions more inclusive, expanding your reach when it comes to advertising your job is paramount. In addition to all of your local recruitment sites and specialized nonprofits job boards, start sharing your opportunities with Hispanic chambers of commerce, black business society chapters and workforce partnerships/alliances that focus on providing job search and career development resources to all job seekers, regardless of income or background at no cost to the candidates. These networks are not only dynamic but their members are the ones at the forefront of societal change - your organization would be all the richer for their participation, whether applying to your roles or serving on your boards - so reach out authentically and build enduring partnerships that can help advance each others missions.

SALARY CLOAKING: While legislation has been passed in several states making it illegal for employers to ask for an employees salary history, a subtle change to job advertisements could lead to savings in time and resources and play an important role in retainment levels and issues around pay parity. Salary cloaking is the practice of not posting a salary range for that role in the hope of finding a strong candidate at a lower salary. This is problematic in the nonprofit space as wages are notoriously low to begin with and over the course of the recruiting process, wastes people’s time searching, applying, screening candidates and interviewing, just for a candidate to say no thanks, I have a family to support. Long term effects include perpetuating wage gaps, issues of transparency, sustained employee satisfaction and ultimately lifetime earnings. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on the fact that most fundraisers only last 16 months in their role and then move on for better pay - there is always a high cost of turnover and this can be addressed on the front end by adding the simple detail of what you are willing to give. 

BE CREATIVE WITH JOB TITLES: Business cards in the fundraising space are either showing fundraising, development or advancement in the job title depending on their perceptions of a donors response to being approached for a potential ask. I have never referred to myself as a fundraiser, having always deferred to being playing a role in the ‘fundraising culture’ of the organizations I have been a part of. There is so much that goes into an ask and I have found that donations come predominantly as a bi-product of strong donor research, cultivation and stewardship along with a killer case for support. 

Continuing on with the sporting analogies of a Moneyball hypothesis, the departmental lead on fundraising can be likened to that of a Quarterback, studying the playbook and devising strategy with the head coach (CEO), and on game day executing the drive up the field and either scoring a touchdown themselves or passing to a receiver or giving it to a running back to make the score. At the end of the day you select the best person to make an ask, whether that be a board member, the CEO or an administrator sending out a membership renewal email. 

There has been research in the effectiveness of fundraiser job titles with Director of Advancement polling the lowest. Fundraising roles may garner attention from out of sector talent through new titles such as Cause Strategist, NGO Resource Analyst or Engagement Facilitator. Be creative and think about what titles inspire could potentially stir more engagement with those that could help achieve your mission.

SYSTEMS AND AUTOMATION: So you are excited about the diverse talent pool you have sourced for you next open position, that’s great! Yet, the last thing you want is for your internal systems to let this potential talent fall through the cracks or be snapped up by someone else as you take your time. By analyzing and reassessing your organization's hiring process you can ensure that a great experience is had by all those that interview (improving your brand and standing in the sector), and that candidates feel supported through the on boarding process - ultimately setting them up for success.

Today's hiring process should have elements of standardization for consistency, tools that capture all of the information gathered on candidates together with automation components to ensure that the time taken from posting to orientation hits established benchmarks. A great tool for this is Smartsheets, a platform which can be tailor made for your internal needs and that has the capacity to also generate action reports when candidates move along to additional stages of the process. Couple with weekly reports to managers to ensure transparency, tools like this can give your organization best in class processes at a fraction of the time and cost of a large acquisition team.

Expect to see big strides over the coming years for numerous HR offerings and applications. Google has been redefining the sector with their early research into data-driven HR focused on the optimal length of the hiring process and leading to Google’s “rule of four” for interviews. They found that four interviews were optimal for hiring a decision that saved both time and money, so from a nonprofit perspective we encourage you to be rigorous and patient in your hiring process as the ROI for getting the right fundraiser on your team can be a true game changer for building capacity towards your organizational goals.

ASSESSMENT TOOLS: What do you do when you have two finalists for a role that you can't decide between? Say one of those comes from a traditional fundraising background with a CFRE and the other not so much but has been more successful in funds raised? More often than not organizations will take the safer option, yet what if there was one more data set that could help make that decision more informed? 

Cultural fit is just as important as skills and experience for organizations and by using behavioral assessments at the front end of the interviewing process, leaders will be able to measure future indicators around performance and motivation with the end goal of designing and building high-performing teams. Tools like the Predictive Index allow you to run your job description through a platform, develop a desired range for an employees behavioral and cognitive fit, gather further input from team members that will regularly interact with that individual to refine the initial projections and help develop particular interview questions based on the candidates profile.

With that said, this might be reserved for larger organizations given that the average candidate would not like to have their CV (or cognitive skills for that matter) screened by an algorithm. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of US workers would not want to apply for a job where their CV was screened in this way with most thinking it would do a worse job than a human.

The path to innovation is seldom a smooth one, with the good news is that innovation doesn't have to be new, it just needs to be new to you, and why wouldn’t you explore the hiring practices and rationale of larger organizations and their HR practices? Data-driven HR also helps to remove human bias from recruitment and open the door to undervalued talent just as long as nuance is applied to ensure certain groups aren't being overlooked at the beginning of the process.

We encourage those in the nonprofit sector to take calculated risks in their recruitment processes because at the end of the day it’s a simple equation. People who can motivate people to vote and donate in support of critical community issues can replicate this process (with a little fine tuning) to turn supporters into donors and community volunteers into civic leaders. And while Moneyball didn’t win the Oakland A’s a World Series, when it was applied at the Boston Red Sox organization through Theo Epstein they ended an 86 year drought to win the World Series and then went on to the Chicago Cubs to end their 108 year hoodoo.

What fundraising campaign will be your World Series? Leave your comments below!

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