For effective onboarding, one size does not fit all

Traditional onboarding programs delay productivity for new hires

Traditionally, onboarding for major gift officers and other frontline fundraisers looks the same for everyone: introductory presentations, a few sessions with key leaders, on-the-job shadowing, and occasional mentorship programs.

However, these one-size-fits-all programs are ineffective for getting new hires up to speed quickly and increasing their long-term retention rates. They do not account for the differences in experience and skill between new MGOs.

One-Size-Fits-All Programs Are Ineffective

Inexperienced Gift Officer

Every new MGO brings a different level of experience and different strengths to the job, but giving the same list of onboarding tasks to everyone ignores this fact. Instead, directing all fundraisers to attend the same sessions leads to an onboarding experience that is too broad to be truly effective. This may mean sessions that are too basic for experienced fundraisers or sessions that do not address skill gaps that less-experienced new hires may possess. Furthermore, one-size-fits-all training leads to delayed starts for all. It takes over 90 days for fundraisers to be road-ready, and it often takes at least one year for fundraisers to secure their first gift.

3 steps to go from one-size-fits-all to customized onboarding

Instead of using the same set of training sessions for all new hires, the Iowa State University Foundation creates flexible onboarding plans that account for each new hire’s individual strengths and level of experience. The plans combine important information for all new hires with individualized training schedules to close skill gaps.

Flexible Onboarding Plan

Step 1: Determine high-priority skills for all new hires

To ensure that all new fundraisers gain important knowledge of your institution and advancement team, leaders determine which training sessions are necessary for all new MGOs. Then, leaders prioritize these sessions based on their importance to MGO success. The highest-priority sessions should teach skills and information that will be immediately useful to all new hires. Other training is prioritized based on how soon the skill or knowledge will be used.

Start prioritizing skills for MGOs using our Pick List and Prioritization Tool

Step 2: Diagnose individual skill gaps

To individualize the plans, managers need to identify each new hire’s skill gaps both before and after their first day on the job. During the interview process, hiring managers take notes of where candidates excel, and where they may need additional training. Once a new hire has started work, one-on-one conversations with their manager should be used to pinpoint and prioritize areas for growth and professional development. This opens a dialogue around skill gaps that can continue throughout onboarding and their tenure with the institution.

Help your MGOs diagnose their skill gaps with our Self-Assessment

Step 3: Create individualized onboarding plans

After determining which training is a high-priority for all new hires and assessing individual skill gaps, managers and new hires work together to create the onboarding plan. The plan includes:

  • How much time new hires should spend developing each skill set
  • How soon new hires should complete each component
  • The format for each session

Managers should aim to include a variety of training formats, from presentations to more casual meetings and brown bag lunch sessions, in order to ensure that onboarding accommodates all learning styles. This enables new hires to gain the most relevant knowledge first.

Take a look at a sample onboarding plan

Resulting plans allow MGOs to get on the road faster

Prioritizing the most important institutional information and skill sets means that training consistently targets each new hire’s needs during their first 90+ days on-the-job. This allows fundraisers to engage with donors sooner, reducing the time it takes to make their first asks. Individualized onboarding plans open the door for future professional development conversations, ensuring that professional support for fundraisers is a long-term priority.

To ensure that a MGO's first 90 days on the job lead to long-term success, take a look at our Tailored Onboarding Toolkit. Download the full toolkit

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