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Almost daily, Richard and I receive letters and emails from readers of this blog who talk about the fact that they are either “the lone voice in the wilderness” or “on their own with no support.” Some of the communication is quite hard to read, because we hear the loneliness of some development professionals and the utter lack of support they feel from their managers and leaders.
I have often said that major gift fundraising is one of the hardest professions, because a major gift officer often is “alone” to fend for himself or herself. It’s kind of the nature of the job.
Think about it. Many times others in your development department don’t get what you do. They may be working on the direct-response program and they are always in the office, but you are not. They may feel you are not even part of the team because you are out of the office so much. Or there is resentment because you always get to travel. As if that is some kind of Disneyland experience – oftentimes, after a full day of visiting with donors you are sitting back at your hotel, or alone in a small town at a crummy restaurant. That is not always easy.
In addition to all of that, Richard and I often hear from MGOs about how they feel a total lack of support from their manager. Often times their manager doesn’t understand their job, so support is hard to come by.
Some days it can feel really tough… and lonely.
If you are like me, your tendency would be just to sweep all those feelings under the rug and try not to think about it very much. But I’ve learned over my life that doing that just makes it worse. In fact, Richard is always telling me “bring it into the light, Jeff. It’s hard, but do it.”
This is good advice.
So if you are feeling at times that you are alone in your work, don’t deny those feelings. Sit with it a while and try to figure out what you need to feel connected to your donors, colleagues and the mission of your organization. Then take responsibility for yourself to get what you need.
Here are some thoughts on how to stay connected as an MGO:

  1. Every day before you start work, read your mission and vision statement. I know it sounds a bit silly, but by doing this ritual every day, you stay connected to it; it reminds you why you are doing this work.
  2. Demand (in a gentle way) that you and your manager meet every week at a set time. This is an opportunity for you to report back on what you are doing, and to keep your manager aware of all the issues you deal with in the field. Many times MGOs feel alone because they think they are on their own with no support. I counsel those MGOs to take responsibility for their “work health” and ask for it.
  3. When you are on the road, make sure you set up systems to connect back to the office and home. This forces you to connect back in to your colleagues in the office to let them know what is happening with you on a daily basis. Or to check in with your manager to give him a verbal update on your donor visits. I always find it necessary to check in. It’s the same on the home front – when you are away, you need to have that connection to your family as well.
  4. At least monthly, set up a meeting with your colleagues in the development office to let them know what you are doing. Again, you might find this strange, but for the MGOs that do this, it really helps them form a bond with their colleagues who are not working with major donors. You are part of a team. People create stories in their heads about what you do all day when you don’t communicate regularly. Then distrust happens.
  5. Spend time alone. What? Didn’t I just talk about how lonely it gets as an MGO? Yes, and one of the reasons is that MGOs are often uncomfortable about being alone. I know this first-hand. MGOs are usually wired to be “with others” – they are the life of the party, they love being with people. The minute they are NOT connecting with others, they go to a dark place. Spending time in meditation or being quiet and alone is a good practice for us “people persons.” We need to become comfortable being alone. This helps us not to feel lonely so much.

I hope these thoughts will be helpful to you as you navigate this journey of being an MGO. You have a tough job; perhaps this can make it easier for you.