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A top advancement officer addresses the profession’s greatest challenges: turnover and gender pay inequality

By Peter Hayashida


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Stephen Webster



Ask any chief advancement officer what keeps her awake at night and the answer will probably relate to people. Identifying, recruiting, developing, and retaining human capital are at the core of our relationship-based business and, not surprisingly, our most daunting challenges.

As I ponder the future of our profession, I see two glaring, interrelated systemic human capital issues that we must address to advance our institutions: fundraiser turnover and gender pay inequity. Let's consider what personal actions we can take to strengthen advancement shops around the world.

First, I believe that turnover is fundamentally a self-inflicted wound. In my experience, a development officer with a decade or more of experience who has never held a single post for longer than two years is not likely to suddenly become loyal to my institution just because I hire her. True, everyone suffers with a difficult boss and a dysfunctional work environment at least once during her career. Twice is a terrible coincidence. Three or four times starts to feel like a pattern, and the common denominator is the employee. So 24 months later, I'm inevitably recruiting for the job again.

This nomadic behavior is intellectually rational because our profession has created a compensation arms race. We often outbid each other for top talent to meet demand in a supply-constrained labor marketplace. But the unintended consequences of this market manipulation will eventually weaken us all.

Our work is long-term in nature. Relationships aren't built in a few months but over years and decades. A major donor who enjoys a 20-year relationship with a school, a college, or a university may work with a dozen different development officers. Does this make sense? One gift officer occupying the same role for 20 years is not realistic—or even healthy—but surely our organizations are better served if she remains five years instead of two.

A major gift officer cannot accomplish much in two or three years. Most gifts that a development officer closes in his first year or two undoubtedly result from the cultivation efforts of his predecessors. What happens to a new prospective donor during a gift officer's short tenure? The trust bond will likely be hampered by the quick departure of his or her institutional liaison.

A prospective employer has no way of knowing how effectively a short-tenured fundraiser has identified, qualified, cultivated, or solicited potential donors. If a gift officer leaves before her efforts can produce results, there is—by definition—no accountability. What successes qualify these individuals as highly accomplished fundraisers if they never remain anyplace long enough to achieve measurable goals?

Plugging the leaks

The most obvious solution to the turnover problem is hiring candidates who have persisted in a role and grown during the course of four or five years (or more). Patience is essential in securing major gifts; if a candidate doesn't have the temperament to learn and become proficient in a job, how can she be expected to close major gifts?

We also need to invest more time, effort, and creativity in growing individuals who are already in our organizations. Small organizations may be constrained in some ways, so explore reallocating duties from time to time or building jobs around an individual's interests and strengths to yield loyalty dividends considered extinct in today's workplace.

Ask more junior employees about their interests, goals, and aspirations. Reshuffling roles may yield the incremental year or two of service that might otherwise be lost when an employee is bored or uninspired. This is not the whole solution, but it is a good start. Certainly in alumni relations, we have learned that the experiences we create for our newest constituents—students—will shape their attitudes and behaviors toward us for the rest of their lives as alumni. The same is true for our staff members.

Equal pay for equal work

The other major people problem: a persistent salary gap between men and women in advancement. On average, the 2013 CASE Compensation Survey revealed that women earned 78 cents for every dollar that men made in comparable positions.

Some leaders try to explain away the differences in terms that sound reasonable but are really excuses based on stereotypes about women in the workplace. The arguments for why a woman's salary may be less than a man's: She has less experience (sometimes a euphemism for "she took time off to have babies"), or she doesn't want management responsibility (maybe code for "we don't think she's tough enough"). But adjusting for factors, such as experience, does little to change the unavoidable conclusion. Then there are managers who say employees should get only what they're willing to demand.

Advancement's pay inequity mirrors that of the larger working ecosystem in the United States: Women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. And in a field that is 70 percent female, about half the top jobs—including those of chief advancement and chief development officers—are held by men, according to CASE data.

I have yet to hear colleagues say, "Well, this is how it should be." Most agree intellectually that this is a problem, but pay parity is elusive. I have two theories why, as well as some thoughts about how to address the situation.

Negotiation as a key competency

Research suggests that women, while capable of negotiation, often choose not to negotiate when it comes to their own salaries. There are many psychological and sociological reasons why this might be true, including anxiety about seeming greedy or selfish or a reluctance to be perceived as aggressive, but we can help employees prepare for these complex interactions. In the workplace, we can create environments where all employees are comfortable negotiating for what they need by encouraging openness, supporting and modeling reasonable compromise, and being explicit about the value of such skills in advancement work.

We do this the same way that we develop any other skill in our workforce: through coaching, training, and other professional development activities. Negotiation skills are essential for any advancement professional; leaders should include this ability, like all other workplace competencies, in performance development plans. Acknowledging that many women come to the workplace with a negative view of negotiating is the first step toward creating solutions that can level the playing field. We must address this inequality: It is damaging to our profession and morally unacceptable.

The costs and rewards of justice

Raising salaries for female employees will have a massive effect on our budgets. But it's the right thing to do, and improving this situation is preferable to explaining to our daughters why they're worth less in the workplace than our sons.

This is a self-perpetuating problem. Managers often request a salary history before making an offer, ostensibly to ensure that the offer is competitive with the candidate's current pay and part of a logical pattern of growth vis-à-vis past positions. But if women are already paid at 78 percent the rate of men, using salary histories to drive compensation will only preserve or exacerbate gender-based salary disparities.

More appropriately, hiring managers should determine the market value of the job and decide on the salary in advance of identifying the preferred candidate. This requires more work, but the very awareness of a significant gap between established compensation for a position and what a candidate is making may be enough to prompt the right internal dialogue about what is fair.

Even if for no other reason than increasing retention, treating people fairly is a sound business strategy, as several very profitable companies, such as Google and Marriott, have found. If you approach your talent-management efforts like a discount retailer, you will either get a subpar workforce or experience constant churn. Neither is in your organization's best interests, and both cost more in the long run than you save in the moment.

What else can we do to mitigate these challenges? Forewarned is forearmed. Start by looking at your salary roster—monthly, quarterly, or semiannually—sorted from highest to lowest salary and/or by position type. What patterns do you notice? What anomalies exist? Can you defend the rank ordering of salaries to an objective observer? At the University of California, Riverside, we routinely make proactive adjustments based on these quarterly reviews, often surprising and delighting high-performing employees who would have been ripe for poaching by other organizations.

We speak in my organization of the loyalty tax—the pay disadvantage that comes from staying within our university system for a long time, thus foregoing the increases that one enjoys when switching employers. As a payer of that tax, I'm vigilant about making sure that we're not exploiting our long-term team members and that we're watching for disconnects between the pay of our high performers and the prevailing market compensation for similar jobs. When we find these disconnects, we strive to align compensation with the marketplace, even if such adjustment requires a longer-term, incremental strategy to achieve.

Take the lead

That leads me to an important point about retention, pay, and performance. In their book, First, Break All the Rules, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman argue that people don't leave jobs; they leave managers. Specifically, they leave managers who don't properly manage employee performance. Poor performers drag entire organizations down and make high achievers vulnerable to the lure of greener pastures. In development, we tend to promote people with strong technical abilities as fundraisers into managerial jobs but give them little training on the skills required to be successful leaders.

If you are a manager, master the key behaviors that your team expects of you: Be responsive and accessible, make decisions, and deal with conflict effectively and courageously. If, like me, you believe that most human behavior lives on the classic bell curve, you know that 80 percent of your workforce is doing what you need it to do most of the time, 10 percent is innovating and pulling your organization forward, and 10 percent is holding you back. We should spend the lion's share of our time and energy on the first two groups, and yet the third one consumes disproportionate psychic resources.

The time has come to change that paradigm. What will you do in the coming year to remind your stars of their value? How will you give special attention and recognition to employees whose results dwarf your investment in them? How will you help that bottom 10 percent improve, redeploy, or transition out so that you can continue to build and improve your organization? And how will you connect all of this to the long-term health of your school, college, or university and your advancement program?

These pernicious problems—turnover and salary inequity—require thoughtfulness, discipline, creativity, and courageous leadership to resolve. And doing so rests on the shoulders of those of us who are in management and leadership roles across the profession. The path will be neither easy nor quick, but failure to act will weaken our teams, our institutions, and our profession.

About the Author Peter Hayashida Peter Hayashida

Peter Hayashida is the vice chancellor of university advancement at the University of California, Riverside.

 

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