Discourage or Encourage?

You’ve spent a great deal of time and money creating the ideal job description and the profile of an ideal employee, and now you’re spending more time and money searching for the right person to fill the MGO position.

Jeff and I have been involved in hundreds of these searches. They are most always filled with optimism and positivity as all the insiders look forward to “just the right person” coming in to fill that MGO job.

And then, many times, things start to go downhill as the new MGO is thrown into the fray without direction and support. Here are the seven most common situations we hear from new MGOs:

  1. There is no major gift program and the MGO is charged with starting one without any direction, even though he/she doesn’t know how to start a major gift program. The MGO founders for some months trying to figure out what to do; then she is fired because, as the DOD explains: “well, she obviously didn’t know what to do.” No, DOD, it was YOU that didn’t know what to do! Don’t blame the MGO.
  2. The MGO is hired and is told to pursue people who have never given or have only given small contributions. They are not allowed to cultivate current donors. Really? You want to start a successful major gift program, but the MGO can’t talk to current donors who have capacity and inclination? It would be easier to turn dirt into gold than to do that.
  3. The DOD hires a power-hungry, self-expressive manager to direct the MGOs, and all that person does is change and question things to display power and maintain a platform for self-expression. We see this too frequently, and it is very sad. Very solid, competent MGOs are strung along by this egomaniac disguised as a servant. And the program goes down in flames.
  4. The MGO is hired but tasked with one or more non-caseload activities, like helping with an event, going to a social club meeting and doing any number of administrative tasks that have nothing to do with caseload donors.
  5. The MGO is not supported with adequate program and financial information in order to create compelling and believable donor offers. We see this all the time. “So, MGO, get out there and raise a ton of money. Sorry I can’t provide you any help on what to raise it for.”
  6. The MGO is asked to attend regular finance meetings where they are bullied and abused by well-meaning folks who need to see money coming in to pay bills. I say “well-meaning” because most often they are. These finance people have a tough job to do. It is not easy to juggle cash flow and get those bills paid. And often the leaders and managers above them are not helpful in creating realistic budgets. Still, the MGO is often the person who feels the heat for all that is not done right outside of them.
  7. Other MGOs or planned giving officers hoard donors that the new MGO could put in their caseload pool to qualify for their caseload. They do this not because they are bad people; they do this because the non-profit’s policies for getting credit for donations are either not established or outdated. So the old employees are protecting “their revenue” from the new MGO. This is not good. A manager needs to step in.

Now, to be clear, we see hundreds of good situations where managers and leaders are proactively helping their new employees be successful through outrageous service. But the reason I am publishing this negative list is so you can do a check up on your MGO situation. Are you:

  1. Helping and fully supporting the MGO as he or she starts your program?
  2. Giving your MGO the very best current high-capacity and high-inclination donors you can?
  3. Making sure there is a helpful and supportive manager who is working with your MGOs?
  4. Making sure your MGO has nothing else do to but manage a caseload of qualified donors?
  5. Giving your MGO the financial and program information he/she needs to create effective donor offers?
  6. Protecting your MGO from people outside the department/division who tend to be demanding and abusive as they pursue their agenda in the organization?
  7. Working with other MGOs and PGOs to sort out who gets the donor?

A fully supported MGO is a happy and effective MGO. Everyone benefits from this situation – the organization, the manager and the donor.




  • […] These Seven Ways to Discourage Your Major Gift Officer could just as easily apply to your new development director. New from Veritus.  […]

  • This article is right on point. And it makes my stomach hurt! Been there way too many times. Thanks for exposing these all-too-common practices. One thing I would add is that this way of thinking accounts for a great deal of the turnover we see in our profession, undermines MG success, and makes us all work harder to achieve the goals put before us. Hire good people, give them what they need, and get out of their way!

  • Michele Prosser says:

    Great comments Richard. One to point out to you and Jeff about MGOs transitioning to DODs. And my personal journey.
    I was a DOD and a good and successful one at that, then an Associate DOD. Succesful there too.
    But what I found, both in my own organization(s) and in talking to others and in job interviews is that, the role that major gifts people, what ever they are called, is the:
    Least understood
    Least trusted and honored by the company
    Most likely to be tasked with unrealistic expectations in terms of time and money
    Most likely position in a development shop to be the wrong hire
    The last one, wrong hire, I hear constantly. There is this huge misperception that major gifts people go to lots of events, Rotary, other clubs, etc. I already knew this was not true.
    Why? Among many experiences, because I had been encouraged by a board member to hire a “community mover and shaker” she knew from Rotary. So I did. And it was a big mistake. I knew it in my gut at the time. But, I lacked the personal experience at that time to make the case to the board.

    So, when the opportunity came along 10+ years ago to join The Salvation Army as Major Gifts Director, I welcomed the opportunity. First and of course, because I believe in the mission. Second, because I wanted to dive in head first solely into major gifts and push myself out of my comfort zone in a big way. I was pretty good with major donors as a DOD. But I knew I could be better. I also was seeing and hearing many that DODs accept no responsibility for the failure of major gifts and blame it on the major gifts folks, management or the board. Or they all blame each other. What a waste of energy. This is frankly, poor management.

    I did not want to get on this train. I wanted to confront my own fears and reservations about managing major gifts folks and what my own role in major gifts should be as a DOD. I think managing major gifts is one of the most challenging and delicate aspects of being a DOD. Candidly, the balance of power and egos can be ginormous.
    Because I’ve confronted it in head on and very successfully, raising millions of dollars, this and my previous experience will make me a much better and stronger leader. I had the other skills before. And I was successful.
    Now I have an intimate understanding along with great personal success and accountability securing major gifts.
    And I will be a better leader, to those I report to and who report to me for my rolling up my sleeves and doing the time in the trenches work in major gifts.
    It’s not for the faint of heart for sure. But it is often great fun and immensely rewarding.
    Thoughts welcome.

  • Richard Perry says:

    There is nothing like walking in the shoes of a MGO, as Michele points out, that can, more quickly, get your head on right if you are tasked to manage a MGO. Very helpful insight. And it is true of all management functions. If you have been the worker on the front line you understand what is needed from leadership. Sadly, too many leaders ignore that memory and instead go with the impulse of power and control. Leading others is a sacred trust. We must never forget that.

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