An unhappy and frustrated MGO recently wrote us, stating that things were not going well in her job. She just could not get excited about the work, she was frustrated with the organization, and she was wondering whether her skills, abilities and motivation were actually a fit for what she was paid to do.
I wanted to ask her: “Who are you?”
It’s a good question. And part of the answer may lie in what I am going to write in this blog.
As you read this, consider it a chance to do a reality check on who you are as a MGO. There are some skills you can learn, and some you just have to have as a natural part of who you are. The reason I say “reality check” is that this is a chance for you to look objectively at whether this job of Major Gifts Officer actually fits you. If it does, great! If it doesn’t, it may explain why you are not doing well.
In Part 1 of this two part series, I wrote that major gifts is often compared to selling. Selling is the exchange of money for property, goods or services, while major gift programs facilitate the exchange of money for the fulfillment of a donor’s interests and passions. If a MGO can successfully identify a donor’s interests and passions and match them to a program his organization is executing, then the money comes in naturally.
I also told you that I had become aware of the writings of Dan Ross, Senior AVP of Commercial Sales at Salesforce who wrote, in their online newsletter Quotable, about sales skills that can and can’t be taught. Part 1 was about the skills that can be taught. In today’s post, I share his list of the skills he believes cannot be taught. As in Part 1, I am going to quote what Dan wrote and then follow it with a major gifts application.
Here then are the seven sales skills that can’t be taught. You could also call this “the seven personal characteristics that can’t be taught.” When you read it, think of it this way. Remember, with each characteristic I am quoting what Dan Ross said about that point.
We sell to a huge variety of customers. The market and products around them change so fast, it’s impossible to have up-to-date training and curriculum on every single thing. A naturally curious salesperson can put themselves in the customer’s shoes, get to the bottom of their problem, and present a solution that meets their needs.
Major Gift Application: Curiosity is a huge asset for a MGO. Think about this carefully. Your main objective is to figure out the donor’s passions and interests, then design a way to serve those passions and interests in a manner that is consistent with and needed by your organization. It is not easy to really get to know your donor. That’s why you have to be curious and keep carefully uncovering more information that will inform your plan with that donor. Curiosity pushes you to ask the right question, and then the strategic follow-up question, and then another question to follow that one. You are curious to know more. This is very important.
Our leadership team talks a lot about the difference between getting it done and doing it right. I want someone who does both. And I’d rather they miss their quota and do the right thing by the customer than the other way around.
Major Gift Application: I am aware of a situation right now where a MGO modifies the truth, scrambles the facts, conveniently forgets other facts, and manipulates people inside and outside the organization. The MGO is not reaching goals because he refuses to follow a system and strategy. But let’s say he was reaching goals AND even exceeding them. Should he be retained as an employee? No, he shouldn’t. Because he is not a person of integrity. Jeff and I place truth-telling and integrity at the top of the list of characteristics a MGO must have. No matter how talented the person is, if she lacks integrity, she should not be hired. Are you a truth-teller? Are you a person of integrity?
Salesforce is growing so fast and there will be career opportunities we don’t even know exist at this point. Salespeople who demonstrate the drive to challenge themselves to do more and help us improve faster will be the ones who will get those opportunities.
Major Gift Application: I have often said that I would rather have a person working with me that has drive and initiative than a ton of talent. When a MGO has drive, she gets around the obstacles. She discovers where she is weaker and seeks learning. She does not easily get discouraged. She goes the extra mile. If you really don’t like coming to work in the morning and can hardly wait to leave in the afternoon, you might check whether this MGO job is for you.
Similar to the skill of curiosity, there are more potential obstacles in sales than we can ever build training for. In addition, it’s simply not possible for a salesperson to memorize every single thing they may need to do in their job. Problem-solvers can isolate each specific case and either find or create an answer for it. Problem-solvers find energy, not frustration, in this part of the job.
Major Gift Application: One of the things I taught my two daughters as they were growing up is a characteristic I learned early in life from my godfather. He always told me not give up no matter what – to always find another way when the current path was not working for me. And I have done that successfully, most of my life. My daughters have developed the same characteristic. A problem surfaces, and immediately they start looking for an alternative solution. What do you do when you face a problem in the organization, or with the donor? Do you just throw your cards on the table and quit, or do you figure out another way? Major gifts work is filled with problems – organizational problems and problems with donors. There are always new problems popping up that you would not have imagined. Find a way around them.
Stuff happens. Understanding that there is a lot of rejection and ups and downs is a critical skill in sales. You can be 1,000% sure a customer is going to buy and then they don’t. You can offer a far better product than a competitor with double the ROI and still have a prospect go the other way. The salespeople who are the most resilient bounce back the fastest, learn from their mistakes, and grow from challenges.
Major Gift Application: What is a mistake? Simply a path to a solution. Nothing more. You can decide to spend a bunch of useless energy bemoaning the mistake you made or the situation that didn’t work out; or you can stand up, dust off, and get going toward the solution. That is by far the better option. A MGO recently made a huge mistake with a donor by sharing with them a program they were not interested in. I don’t have time here to tell you all the circumstances that led up to the mistake. Suffice it to say that it was a series of assumptions that led to the wrong conclusion. And it was not pretty. The MGO got the meeting and sat with the donor and her husband and passionately made the case, after which the husband said: “Paul (the MGO and not his real name), may I be blunt? You know we appreciate what your organization is doing. And we like you. But certainly you must be aware that we are not interested in anything you have presented this morning.” And he went on to kindly tell the MGO that they had serious doubts about the intentions of the MGO and the organization. Like I said earlier, it was not pretty. But the MGO took that situation, analyzed the sequence of events that led him down the wrong track, learned from it, corrected it and now is a successful fundraiser for the organization. Can you easily stand up when you have been knocked down by opposition or failure?
We have a coaching culture at Salesforce. The salespeople who are self-aware can quickly identify where they need to improve and go straight to the prescription. The reps who aren’t self-aware may abandon their best habits the first time they have a bad month or quarter and not realize what they actually should be working on. The most self-aware and skilled sales professionals are more deliberate with success and know how to repeat it.
Major Gift Application: OK, here’s my question for you. Answer it impulsively and quickly. Here it is: “In major gifts, what are you not good at?” If you had to think about this for more than 15 seconds you might not be self-aware. And that could be a problem. Self-awareness leads a good MGO to seek help in areas where they can grow. It also helps when you are dealing with your caseload donors. You are aware of what you are doing and how it comes across, which leads me to the next point…
7. EMOTIONAL AWARENESS
Salespeople who spend a lot of time on the phone need to be very good at reading a prospect’s emotions without the benefit of a facial expression. Similarly, those on the road need to be highly skilled at reading interactions in a room and knowing when to be more influential and when to back off.
Major Gift Application: This is a critical skill/characteristic for a MGO to have. You need to be able to read what the donor is saying to you and adjust your approach. You need to be able to perceive what is happening with the donor and her spouse (or her relative or friend or partner) so you can adjust your approach. Major gifts is not about creating a “sales” template or approach and then following it religiously with every donor. It is about adapting and customizing as new information comes in. That is what emotional awareness does. How emotionally aware are you?
These are the seven skills/characteristics that Dan says cannot be taught. Jeff and I generally agree that if these characteristics are not naturally part of who you are, then it will be difficult for you to acquire them. But I have seen MGOs who have set out to learn more in each of these areas.
Take a moment to see how you measure up in these seven areas. And think about the connection of your self-evaluation to your performance in these areas. It could be that all is OK. Or you might be getting another clue that major gifts work is really not for you. If that is the case, do not be discouraged. That is good information that will help you get to a better place.