“Entry-Level Organizations”: Wave of the Past?

Recently I read online somewhere the following:

[A nonprofit] is seeking a planned giving advisor. This is a junior position for a fundraiser with 3 or so years of experience who wishes to move into planned giving. Focus is on bequests, CGAs, and marketing.

The gist of one of the responses to this was that the concept of making a “junior” hire for a planned giving program is “a guarantee of underperforming” and “a recipe for failure.” Not because of a prejudice against entry-level fundraising personnel, but more through a concern about the bad fit between a “junior” hire and the financially-sophisticated people with whom he or she will have to deal.

I think that’s a point well taken, though fundraisers have to start somewhere, after all.

“Economy Class” Is An Oxymoron

What I thought was more interesting about this posting is that I think it shows the incursion into planned giving fundraising of a business model that has been popular in other fields. For lack of a better term I’ll call this the “entry-level organization.”

These are businesses whose solvency depends on maintaining a staff almost completely consisting of juniors, by which I mean young people, just out of college (or wherever), more or less desperate for a job and of course willing (if not happy) to work for low, entry-level wages.

Take for example the retail book business. The internet-induced price pressures for brick-and-mortar bookstores require that they cut costs somewhere, and the simple answer was: Develop a sales workforce that is 95% kids (early 20-somethings, basically). They work cheap and they don’t stay long. Make “youth” a central tenet of the company’s “culture.” And don’t worry about customer service – the money saved in this business model will far outstrip the sales lost in customers frustrated by the lack of knowledgeable sales associates.

To a bean-counting mentality, this model has undeniable appeal. But its limitations are equally undeniable and the fact that sales at Borders – the store I had in mind in the above example – are flatlining just proves its unsustainability.

The Future Begins Now

So is this same penny-wise-pound-foolish model creeping up on planned giving programs in the current hunker-down economic atmosphere of limited budgets and falling expectations?

If so, then development officers need to bear in mind the downside of trying to nickel-and-dime their organizations into the black. An alternative to the “youth exploitation” model might be to regard junior hires as opportunities for skill-building through mentoring with a view towards long-term employment with your program. Assign your junior hire as an apprentice to an old fundraising hand. Make skill-building multi-generation in the same way you project your organization’s mission into the future.

Cheap savings now will never win out over solid investment in the future. That’s a concept that should be familiar to planned giving professionals: The future begins now.

Related Posts

Leave a reply