Originally published December 2, 2015

Traditionally, our industry has primarily focused its staff development and recognition efforts on the revenue-producing departments, like major or annual giving. In recent years, non-profit institutions have increased the need for, and emphasis on, data-driven reporting, metrics, and analysis. This growing need means the non-profit industry should expand its focus on retaining and growing operations talent and recognizing the importance of their contributions.

Operations and Information Strategy is Here to Stay
Information systems technology is integral to most companies’ operations. CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook Report (February 2015) indicated that the United States would increase its IT spending by 5.1% this year, representing over $1 trillion in hardware, software, and services, and hundreds of thousands of technology-related jobs. Earlier this year, Glassdoor identified 10 jobs in IT among the top 25 “best jobs in America.”

With this increasing value and growth come higher salaries and incentives to draw and retain talent. Unfortunately, the non-profit industry cannot keep pace with the salaries and benefits of a Fortune 500 company, despite needing the same knowledge and resources; however, we can provide positions that help meet people’s desire for engagement, mission, and importance, all of which go a long way towards acquiring and maintaining talent.

Strategy vs. Service
The elevated importance of operations and information systems technology is in conflict with the traditional perspective of “back office” teams, which has focused on the support and service-oriented roles of these operations departments.

Many operations teams are isolated within the institution, some due to internal politics or an historical lack of inclusion, others due to space constraints causing physical separation between the development and operations teams, and still others due to leadership’s lack of understanding of the value and ROI that a well-resourced operations team can provide.

The more isolated operations teams are from the institution’s fundraising staff, vision, and plans, the fewer the opportunities for collaboration, creativity, and innovation, and the lower their engagement level.

If we want our operations teams to grow, remain engaged, and be passionate about their work, we need to connect them with the outcomes of their day-to-day activities. This means not only communicating fundraising impact to operations staff, but also helping development staff understand and appreciate the important roles operations staff play in producing successful fundraising results. Ultimately, we need to change the discourse about these service-oriented teams that are increasingly relied upon for strategic information and thought leadership.

Here are some questions to consider to help your organization understand the operations team’s importance in fundraising outcomes.

Operations Leadership
Flowing from the historic lack of emphasis on strategic information and data, leaders in this area have not typically been as valued or elevated as their fundraising counterparts. Despite not managing a portfolio, operations staff still have the potential and desire to serve in leadership positions within an institution. Leaders who understand how to facilitate processes, apply data-driven and analytical thinking to direct overall goal setting and initiatives, and manage teams can and will add value to overall fundraising results. But if staffing in operations is kept stagnant at a junior level, this potential will never be realized, and valuable leaders will be lost.

Making a Change
Our industry is moving in the right direction in regards to operations talent, but we need to increase our focus and efforts in order not to lose our prime talent to for-profit companies. As more institutions begin and deepen conversations about analytics, database conversions, social media engagement tools, and data-driven reporting, operations talent must be at the forefront of our priorities.

To adopt operations talent as a priority:

  • Look for opportunities to create growth and leadership opportunities within operations.
  • Increase understanding of how operations impacts fundraising success.
  • Foster ownership of institutional mission and engagement within operations staff, and help them understand their role in fundraising success.

Bentz Whaley Flessner has long recognized the importance of technology and operations, through founding our analytics division ten years ago and supporting our clients through specialized consulting in operations and technology for many years.

Our systems and operations practice provides comprehensive counsel to both operations teams and institutional leadership looking to grow, develop, and increase results. Contact us at (952) 921-0111 or visit www.bwf.com to learn more.

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