New Ways to Retain and Hire Talent in the Midst of a Crisis

Tough times demand that leadership assess, rethink and reset. But as you do, try to take a longer-term view regarding the degree to which your development team is included in your budget-reducing plans, says a new report by Aspen Leadership Group.

July 20, 2020 – Many of you are gathering around your management table (virtually), grappling with how to get through these next few months and trying to imagine what is ahead. As you do, your organization may be faced with difficult decisions about cutting budgets, hiring freezes, furloughs and potentially letting people go. A new report by Aspen Leadership Group’s senior consultant Don Hasseltine offers fresh ways to assess, rethink and reset during these challenging times.

“I would encourage you – as much as possible – to take a long-term view, or at least a mid-term view, regarding the degree to which your development team is included in your budget-reducing plans,” said Mr. Hasseltine. “Your ability to quickly reset your organization’s overall financial situation will likely depend on attracting significant philanthropy.”

“I know it is a hard argument to make when everyone around you is making sacrifices for the health of the organization,” he said. “However, protecting your advancement team might just be the most selfless move you can make and one that could protect your organization’s long-term viability. Here are some ways to assess, rethink and reset.”


It is a reality that you will likely have to freeze or cut budgets. “As you do, please treat your revenue-producing areas with care,” said Mr. Hasseltine, who specializes in recruiting senior-executives within philanthropy and fundraising.

“Your donors and friends who support you will continue to support you, but they will need to be treated well, communicated with often, and tended to with care,” he said. “Now that most fundraising teams have shifted to physical distancing and new remote operations, many advancement professionals are still unsure whether they can fundraise in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Working with less might work in some parts of the organization, but you cannot allow these important relationships to suffer. And they will if you stretch your advancement team too far.”

With a 25-year career in advancement, Don Hasseltine specializes in organizational development for non-profits with particular expertise in philanthropy, fundraising, and leadership. His collaborative approach has proven to be highly effective at helping clients articulate strategy, execute impactful programs, mold teams, and build institutional self-confidence. He also carries a portfolio of high-level executive search projects and frequently places and coaches, CEOs and presidents, CDOs, and VPs. His clients include some of the most recognized organizations in higher education, independent schools, national nonprofits, foundations and institutes, and others.

“If you furlough or cut frontline fundraisers and staff who support them, there is a loss of institutional knowledge and likely loyalty to the organization,” Mr. Hasseltine said. “The opportunity cost of not nurturing a major gift portfolio and the cost of losing relationships with donors needs to be considered as part of the collateral damage of such cuts.”

Related: The Future of Work and the Workforce in the Post-Pandemic Era

Mr. Hasseltine also asked how many volunteers and donors does your organization have who consider it a priority in their lives? “Every one of these needs to be kept close, through as much one-to-one conversation as possible,” he said. “Many of our clients are finding that it’s easier than ever to get through, given reduced distractions; one client held a video call with the chancellor, inviting 125 top prospective donors, and more than 90 percent attended.”


Mr. Hasseltine said that “philanthropy will be one of the key pillars to restoring your organization to whatever new normal looks like. With that in mind, how much of your agenda from the spring have you put off until the fall? If you have cut staff, who is going to handle all of the fundraising and engagement activity you have already rescheduled?”  

Conducting a Job Search During a Global Pandemic
A new report by Koya Leadership Partners points the way to finding a new job in the toughest economic climate in years. Start by accepting that you’re not alone, says author Amanda Sonis Glynn. Networking, pro bono work and developing new skills are just some of the approaches that will pay dividends in the long run.

Volunteering with an organization or serving on a board provides similar opportunities to doing pro bono work but from a slightly different perspective. “Yes, you will still be expanding your network and allowing others to see how you work, but you’ll also be gaining valuable skills that will help you in your job search, particularly as a board member exposed to governance and other organizational management issues,” Ms. Sonis Glynn said. 

“The volume of that activity and those solicitations will be enormous come fall, and those who have the teams to accomplish this heavy-lift will reap the benefits,” Mr. Hasseltine said. “If you do not have enough human capacity to do the outreach and relationship-building all along, and especially as recovery begins, your recovery will be delayed and revenue from fundraising will be reduced.”


There will likely never be more talent in the market than right now. “As organizations are thinking about cutting, really great people will soon be available and grateful to have the opportunity to work for your organization,” said Mr. Hasseltine. “Also, consider the advantages of going into the market for a search today. Your new person will likely start in July or August – saving you costs right now – and enter your organization at the precise moment when you are going to need the most help.”

“If the goal is recovery and relaunching to serve your mission in the best possible way, you will likely need to persuade your leadership team to rethink the impact of cutting your front-line team,” Mr. Hasseltine said. “You can and should take a close look at underperforming staff; this may be the time to move forward with changes you knew you needed to make. At the same time, building and strengthening your revenue-producing team in the short term will give your organization the critical lift it needs to achieve medium- and long-term plans,” he said.

Related: Conducting Executive Searches During a Pandemic

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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