Philanthropy leaders – Challenge the three common concerns about remote work

As many organizations call their staff back into the physical office, health care philanthropy leaders need to decide whether they will retain some level of remote work. More remote work can lead to a smaller, less expensive office footprint – but the potential cost savings aren’t just about physical infrastructure. We believe that the option of remote work will give philanthropy teams a competitive edge in the growing non-profit market.

A recent Gallup survey found that nearly 1 in every 4 U.S. workers wants to maintain remote work in the long-term. Offering remote work may be a way to retain staff and tackle the historically high turnover rates that have plagued fundraising teams in the nonprofit industry. Gift officers, in particular, have a typical tenure of approximately 2 years. In our own research, we found that health care major gift officer tenure was even lower than that, at 16 months. A fundraising team that loses a gift officer may also lose that gift officer’s network of connections and community trust, and potentially realize the loss of a long-standing donor. Furthermore, when a non-fundraising staff member leaves, they take their institutional knowledge, such as insights for successfully managing donor pipelines or annual events, with them.

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We recommend offering remote work options to support your overall retention and recruitment strategy. Here are the three most common concerns we hear from leaders – you may believe these yourself – or encounter them as you’re planning your long-term approach to remote work.


Common concerns about remote work

1. “My team isn’t productive in a remote work environment.”

This is the #1 concern we hear from development leaders about remote work. However, this concern is typically more of a feeling than a fact backed by hard numbers. When development leaders analyzed the data, many concluded that productivity was similar to an in-person environment or in some cases, better. One mid-sized foundation in the Midwest noted that they were able to increase major gift officer portfolio sizes because the time it took to complete a donor visit is 50% less in a remote environment.

To determine if your team has been productive remotely, the first step is to clearly define what your productivity and efficiency metrics are. Gather the applicable metric data from the timeframe your team was remote and compare it to the same timeframe from previous years. Examine the results to objectively understand how remote productivity fared for your team.

2. “Remote work doesn’t fit our culture.”

Philanthropy is rooted in making human connections and finding mutual interests. Traditionally, teams prioritized in-person collaboration among staff and in-person interactions with donors. However, this past year showed that team collaboration isn’t necessarily lost in a virtual setting. Many philanthropy teams were surprised to find that remote work could actually enhance their workplace culture and streamline communication channels. A children’s hospital foundation reported that their employee engagement scores were higher in 2020 than in previous years, with staff indicating that the flexibility offered by remote work was important to them.

If you encounter this concern, we encourage you to conduct an employee engagement survey that directly addresses the pros and cons of remote work. Solicit anonymous feedback from your staff to allow for candid responses. Again, consider comparing these survey results to previously available surveys to shed light on the benefits and disadvantages of a potential culture shift.

3. “We can’t have our own policy differ from the health system’s policy.”

The majority of jobs within a health system must be completed in-person. However, if you can prove your team was similarly (if not more) productive while remote, now is the time to advocate for an exception to a blanket in-person work policy. Present the data you have on your team’s remote productivity and engagement, along with any testimonial or survey data regarding interest in working remotely in the future. Be prepared to discuss potential cost savings and trade-offs. For example, you may need to significantly reduce your overall office space and eliminate dedicated desks for team members to improve your organization’s bottom-line.

Top performers will increasingly be able to leave not only for the foundation down the road, but also for the foundation across the country offering a remote position. We strongly encourage philanthropy leaders to prioritize remote work options as part of their broader retention and recruitment strategy.

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