How long should you stay in your job?

I recently attended an event with the founder of a national search firm that manages many fundraising searches annually.

One of the interesting things that he advised was to stay in a fundraising position for a minimum of 3 or 3.5 years.  In his opinion, results from your first two years of any position are predominantly a result of things done by a predecessor (unless of course it is a new position or there are other mitigating circumstances to consider) and that it isn’t until your third year on the job that your own ideas and initiatives begin to produce results.  While I don’t totally agree with this assertion, I do understand it.

Do you agree or disagree with this assertion?  I’m very interested to hear your thoughts.


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5 Replies to “How long should you stay in your job?”

  1. I think it depends on the size of the organization where you work, too. I am at a smaller nonprofit so my ideas are heard and put into practice faster than at larger organizations, so I expect the impact of those changes (good or bad) to come within my first year of being here. I would almost never recommend leaving a job less than a year before you take it, but after that point I feel like it’s a “case-by-case” basis kind of thing.

    1. I totally agree about organizational size being an important factor in how much authority and influence you have on the fundraising efforts. Thanks for your input Emily!

  2. This is a serious issue facing our industry, and I’m glad you’re starting a discussion about it. I get the search firm’s point, but there are so many reasons to leave or stay in a particular position that it’s hard to make a rule of thumb. Perhaps a better question would be: “Fundraisers, why aren’t you staying in your jobs longer?” Is it because there are so many opportunities that it’s sometimes easier to leave a job that’s not perfect for one that just might be? Or because you get stuck in a smaller organization where there’s no opportunity for moving up the ladder? I’m sure there are many other reasons. Another good question: “Non-profit CEOs and Board Members: What are you doing (or not doing) to retain good fundraisers?”

  3. As others have said, there are many variables regarding the length of time a fundraising professional stays with an organization. Among them, burnout is one of the primary reasons that fundraisers leave positions prematurely. For example, an overload of complicated proposal and reporting deadlines and not enough staff to handle them, together with difficulty in getting supporting information from program staff, results in frustration and exhaustion. Add to that unrealistic administrative and board expectations about how quickly proposals will generate funds as another reason for the friction and anxiety that propel good, unappreciated people out the door.

  4. Dan,

    I tend to agree with the consultant.

    This is a topic where I have been pretty critical of those in our field of fundraising. Many leave their positions far too soon, often in search of greener pastures. This is very costly to nonprofits, as searches for replacements are very expensive and can drain a budget quickly.

    In the community where I currently reside, hiring committees tend to hire development professionals that are job hoppers, and then can’t understand why they must repeat the search process shortly after hiring someone with that kind of history.

    Boards and Development professionals need to realize that it takes time to build and cultivate relationships for productive fundraising. Perhaps, if they stopped spending time on events that are time consuming and expensive, and spent their energies on donor engagement and cultivation, they would find greater success.

    Let me share a piece on this topic from my archives.

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