Behind the Curtain – ST’s Seven Secrets to Staffing Success

The fundraising environment is tough these days. Talks of recession, rising costs, production delays and the almost constant pressure to meet financial goals is taking its toll on all of us. And the result? Stress, discontent and staff turnover rates increasing in our sector.

I read an article recently on Givebutter that stated the average turnover (“voluntary turnover rate”) for non-profits is 19%; much higher than the average industry turnover rate of 12%.* They call this a historic high. Tenure has dropped from around 2 years on average to just 18 months. This has a huge impact on the effectiveness of charities, the cost of hiring and training, staff morale and ultimately, the organization’s ability to delivery its mission to clients.

More than forty years in the business of fundraising has taught the team at ST lots about recruiting and keeping staff, as well as supporting our clients through their own staff changes and organizational disruption.  To help our fellow fundraisers, here are some highlights of our approach – which has helped us beat the odds when it comes to staff tenure. I hope other organizations can benefit from what we have learned. We are by no means perfect, and we’re continually aiming to do better, and here’s how…

  1. Develop a thorough onboarding process. ST’s process introduces staff to their job function, as well as how we collaborate. From the history of the organization and the clients they are working on, to job expectations and company norms. In this virtual world, we also make a point to introduce fellow ST-ers beyond their immediate team. We’ve had many new staff tell us how helpful this type of onboarding approach is. And we take a similar approach when onboarding new clients.
  2. Compensate accordingly. We have a commitment to offer a fulsome compensation package which includes a living wage (we are members of the Ontario Living Wage Network) and regularly work with an external compensation consultant to review staff salaries against industry standards.
  3. Identify your organizational strengths and weaknesses and use them to improve. Every two years, an impartial, independent contractor conducts confidential staff and client surveys, this helps ST’s management team reflect on how we can better help staff do their jobs and support clients. Of course, we have on-going one-on-one conversations, short surveys, and other methods of staying in touch with how our teams and clients are doing.
  4. Commit to employee well-being. ST has dedicated Human Resource team, which is unique for an agency of fewer than 50 staff. Our employees are encouraged to speak to our dedicated team about their performance and other work-related challenges. Our HR and senior staff are trained in mental health first aid, CPR and traditional first aid. In addition, we offer all employees access to NABS – the National Advertising Benevolent Society, where they can go for mental health support resources.
  5. Learn about and practice inclusion, equity, and diversity through IDEA. ST is committed to fostering an inclusive culture and set aside money in our budget for training and awareness building. Consultants are the best way to initiate this work. They are the experts, lean on them to provide resources and understand that it’s a journey that will take time.
  6. Invest in training, including life skills. Make sure your team has the knowledge and skills to perform at a high level beyond specific job roles. Again, ST sets aside budget for professional development that can be tailored to everyone’s needs. We also encourage and offer time for staff to share their knowledge with each other.
  7. Develop a philosophy with guidelines around your organizational values that will keep all team members on the same page. Similar to how our clients serve their beneficiaries and donors, ST is in the client service business. Helping our clients raise more money is our mission. To do this to the best of our ability, we have developed a guiding philosophy called RULE. RULE stands for Relationships, Unsurpassed Service, Leadership and Execution. Our RULE principles guide us in working with our clients and one another and is what makes us unique.
    It provides guidelines for staff on how to operate, thrive and prosper in our agency and in daily life. RULE has become part of the nomenclature at ST and is vitally important to who we are as an agency. We value both our staff and clients immensely and have had only positive feedback on RULE.

And a bonus 8th point. Nine months ago in June of 2022, we initiated a 4-day workweek trial. It has been a great success, with minimal impact on client service but maximum impact on work/life balance for staff.  It took a lot of courage to move in this direction, but our hope is that it will pay off in staff retention and happiness.

If you want to find out more about ST and our approach to building a successful business by investing in staff, feel free to reach out.


Julie Gales

VP, Operations



Julie Gales

Julie Gales

Julie leads ST’s financial management and HR divisions and is a key member of ST’s leadership team. She also provides thought leadership on several ST accounts, drawing on her considerable expertise to develop and guide successful fundraising campaigns that help our clients raise millions of dollars.