The Hidden Cost of Not Investing in Progressive Talent

4 min readJul 10, 2019


It’s been said that nearly 90% of Millennials would take a pay cut to do mission-driven work. By that measure, progressive advocacy organizations should have a nearly unlimited supply of talented people applying to do this work.

But ask anyone who’s hiring how their recruitment is going.

They’re struggling to find people with the right skills.

Almost anyone that comes in needs training that we “can’t afford.”

Even worse, organizations are hemorrhaging talent. Our movement is losing people at an alarming rate — likely even quicker than we are bringing new people in.

Every time an organization loses an employee, it costs them 33% of that employees’ salary to recruit, train, and onboard a new person in to that role (not to mention the institutional knowledge lost).

While everyone is focused on breaking fundraising records, no one is paying attention to the hidden cost — the sheer magnitude of resources that could be going to drive impact — that is lost every year because our movement fails to adequately invest in talent.

That’s why Cultivate put together the Progressive Jobs Survey — to take a look inside of the root causes of our retention issues, from the perspective of ~450 people working in the progressive space. Here’s what we found:

The vast majority of job and training opportunities are shared in private networks (google groups, Facebook groups, Slack channels).

Even if people are able to find out about these hidden groups through word of mouth, most of these groups require that you are nominated by several people in the movement in order to join.

This means that upward mobility is dependent on access instead of merit.

There is a massive gap in soft skills development.

Even when people are able to find training opportunities, they are limited in scope. There are dozens of trainings that can teach you how to cut turf, or how to use Excel — but very few that teach you the soft skills that are critical for being an effective operator in this work.

What little is available is usually only available to senior leadership (who often have decades of bad habits that need to be unlearned), when we should be creating a culture that prioritizes soft skill development from the first day that someone starts working.

To make matters worse, the burden of the cost is often on the organizer rather than the organization that stands to benefit from hiring them.

We can’t expect people to effectively manage themselves or others if they have never been trained on how to have hard conversations, how to manage time, or how to negotiate.

Our industry prioritizes jobs instead of careers.

Perhaps the most telling finding is the one that also prompts so many talented people to leave advocacy and go to work in another industry. More than 50 percent of the respondents said that they talk with their manager about professional development less than once per year.

This means we are missing our biggest opportunities to develop and retain talent.

This talent gap is a fixable problem. We’ve got plenty of people who want to do this work, and plenty of organizations that could use their help.

That’s why Cultivate exists — to create a career development hub for workers in the progressive movement. Our goal is to hire, train, and retain diverse talent far beyond a single election cycle.

We’re reimagining what it would look like to invest in people, to train campaigners the way we train athletes, and to shift the way our organizations run to incentivize professional growth.

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Cultivate is a career development hub for progressives.