The Legacy Relationship Building Conundrum

Following a webinar I delivered last week, many participants wrote asking different questions. This is always an enjoyable

Following a webinar I delivered last week, many participants wrote asking different questions. This is always an enjoyable and enlightening part of webinars that few talk about. And just about every time, there is one message that catches my attention.

It may be a kind and thoughtful message, a comment that is way too harsh (ouch, those hurt!), and other times, it’s a simple question that speaks volumes about the state of the nonprofit sector.

It is a simple and fair question asked in the context of the webinar on preparing for a legacy ask: given that the cultivation conversations are a “marathon”, what are your recommendations to sustain and mature the organization’s relationship with the prospect, given trends in staff turnover?

Yowzah, that’s a doozy, don’t you think?!

Ever since CompassPoint’s 2013 study Underdeveloped: A National Study of the Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising was released, many blogs, articles, conference sessions and discussions were held. Have you seen the outcome, any change?!

In the same year as Underdeveloped was released, Penelope Burke’s book Donor-Centered Leadership was published. In her book she shares the results of her research and it was shocking to learn about organizational and attitudinal problems contributing to why fundraisers left their last position: 

34% unrealistic time frame for meeting fundraising goals

33% lack of direction on how funds would be used

32% “we have to have the money now”

27% insufficient fundraising budget

24% additional responsibilities beyond fundraising

24% resistance to innovation

14% resistance to adopting better fundraising strategies

So here we are, seven years later and not much seems to have changed. It’s disheartening that fundraiser turnover is still high. Now add the countless furloughs and firings due to the current pandemic and our sector is a big trouble.

I don’t have a solution. Do you?

While finding the right response was difficult, I did point out that the organization must look at the root cause of staff turnover and to think of ways of fixing the situation prior to trying to figure out who should be the relationship holder in anticipation of staff departures.

The reality is that if this is not addressed, regardless of who is brought into the legacy journey with donors, the problem will persist.


The organization will continue perpetuating the problem and will hurt its fundraising efforts and relationship with donors which in turn will erode trust in the organization’s capacity to deliver its mission.

Being unable to give a comforting answer was no fun but we mustn’t shy away from pointing out the elephant in the room, don’t you agree?

Have seen changes in the sector in the last 7 years? Are we moving the needle even just a little bit? If you have examples of great leadership and feel compelled to share them, write a message in the comment section below 👇🏼👇🏼 

Not wanting to end this week’s post in a negative tone, let me share this article with you which exemplifies truly inspiring and smart leadership by Simone Wicha, Executive Director of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin.


P.S.: The person who asked me the question was kind and replied saying the organization in question is fabulous but they were planning for the eventual retirement of their fundraiser. Suggestions included hiring the person’s replacement with enough anticipation for proper onboarding and introductions with donors, introducing the executive director or a key program person, sending out a very personalized but clear communication to key donors notifying them of the staff change.

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