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Safeguarding Your Fundraising Engine: Data Staff Flight Risk

Author: Julie Knight, PhD

Welcome to the first installment of our two-part blog series on the unintended consequences of data staff turnover in nonprofit organizations.

Image of business operations

In this blog, we will explore the impact of staff departures on institutional knowledge and present three critical considerations for organizations facing data staff turnover. However, we don't stop here. In the second blog of this series, we will provide actionable recommendations on proactively gathering and preserving crucial information to navigate these challenges effectively. Together, these blogs will equip you with insights and actionable steps to address this critical issue in your organization.

Regardless of their proficiency, people often leave their jobs, and this holds true for nonprofit organizations as well. Staff turnover has been a concern in the nonprofit sector even before the pandemic. A 2019 survey conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy involving 1,035 fundraisers found that 51% planned to leave their organizations within the next two years, and 30% intended to leave the field altogether. Over the past three years, this issue has been further exacerbated due to lofty goals, tighter budgets, and declining staff morale. It's not a question of "if" but "when" organizations should start considering the consequences of staff departures.

The Impact on Data Staff:

While the repercussions of gift officer turnover receive much attention, it is crucial to recognize the significance of the data staff in many fundraising programs. These individuals, ranging from business analysts to web developers to prospect researchers, are increasingly in demand. When they leave, they often take with them valuable institutional knowledge. Here are three key aspects to consider:

Data Dictionary:

  • Understanding your organization's donor affiliation hierarchy is essential for maintaining accurate reports and ensuring their updates and enrichment over time. Unfortunately, you may receive five different answers if you ask five different people this question. It is imperative to document the assumptions behind data variables and fields to mitigate the knowledge gap, creating a comprehensive data dictionary.

Appeal Code Tracking:

  • Tracking how donors make their gifts and comparing year-to-year trends requires a well-defined appeal code and a descriptive appeal code description. This information should be easily accessible and understandable to existing and new staff members to ensure consistent tracking and analysis.


  • Automation offers efficiency and ease of implementation. However, it is crucial to understand the connections established across systems and the necessary update frequencies. For example, automated stewardship emails welcoming new donors should be sent exclusively to new donors from the current fiscal year, not those who received it in the previous year.

The Challenge and the Solution:

Given the increasing demand for data staff, their departure represents a twofold challenge. First is the loss of institutional knowledge, which disrupts operations and decision-making. Second, the process of finding and training a replacement can be time-consuming. This challenge is projected to persist, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 35% growth in analytics positions, including some data staff, by 2031. To address these issues proactively, organizations should develop strategic contingency plans that encompass all aspects, from onboarding to standard operating procedures and prioritize implementing best practices throughout the team.


Recognizing the unintended consequences of data staff turnover is crucial for nonprofit organizations. By acknowledging the significance of data staff and implementing strategic contingency plans, organizations can mitigate the loss of institutional knowledge and ensure smoother transitions when staff members depart. Prioritizing documentation, precise tracking mechanisms and automation maintenance will contribute to long-term success in data management.

Shaff Fundraising Group is a consulting firm specializing in fundraising, marketing, and analytics. We take pride in our independent approach, free from technology affiliations with SaaS and other companies. This allows us to provide objective, solutions-oriented support to our client partners and the wider fundraising and engagement community.


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