In my previous post, I wrote about 7 qualities you want to see in organizations before you say YES to working with them.
There was a LOT of feedback and energy from many people on this subject.  Thanks for all the discussion.
Today, I’d like to list all the qualities you’ll want to avoid when looking for a position in fundraising and major gifts.  Some of these will require more than a cursory look at the organization.  You’ll really need to do your homework.
Again, this is YOUR career we are talking about.  You are worth doing the necessary research it takes to ensure you’re going into a position with your eyes wide open.
Let me just say this before I get into my list.  The number of non-profits has exploded in the last decade.  That is a good thing…and it has also been a bad thing.  Richard and I believe that the quality of leadership and management has not “caught up” to the growth of non-profits.  Therefore, there are many non-profits out there with very poor leadership, management and structure.
The mission may be solid, but the infrastructure to address the mission is broken.  This is what you need to watch out for.  You could easily make an emotional decision based on the mission of an organization without questioning how it actually carries out that mission on a daily basis.
Here is what you want to avoid:

  1. Bad Leadership—I know many, many people right now who are suffering because they work in non-profits who have bad leaders.  Be wary of organizations where the founder is still the leader after 10 years of existence.  That is usually not a good situation.  You should question employees about the type of leader the President or CEO is.  If they hesitate, that is a problem.  I’ve witnessed leaders who create fear as a way to control people.  That fear drives how everyone works.  It leads to massive dysfunction.  Stay away from this.  Bad leadership is by far the #1 cause of a dysfunctional non-profit.  I don’t care if there are good people working at the non-profit.  If the leader is rotten, so will the rest of it be.  And you need to be really careful here, because bad leaders can be good people.  Remember, good people are not always good leaders.  Sometimes it is because they are good people that they are put into leadership positions.  Then they turn out to be bad leaders and the non-profit goes into a dysfunctional mode to work around the bad leadership.  Bottom line…it’s a mess.  Be aware.
  2. Bad Management—quite frankly, non-profits are the worst at this.  If you’re applying for an MGO position you want to make sure the non-profit has clear goals and performance measurements for you.  If they don’t, that is a sign they don’t value management.  It might seem great that there is no formal evaluation of your work, but it will spell trouble down the road.  Are there clear lines of reporting?  Does everyone know who his or her supervisor is?  You laugh?  Let me tell you, this is so common in the non-profit world it’s maddening.  Really do your homework on this one.  Good management is key for your success!
  3. Unclear about programs to “sell.”  We had a reader write about this one, and she was so right.  If a non-profit is unclear about what their programs and projects really are and how they talk to donors about them, it will spell massive trouble for you.  I can’t tell you how many MGO’s plead with us to tell leadership to give them something to sell to donors.  It’s so common that my business partner, Richard Perry, has developed a proprietary way of understanding all that a non-profit does by reviewing  their entire budget and coming up with a complete list of “fundable projects”.  It’s called a Project Support Portfolio™.  As you question the interviewer, this is so important to discuss.  You will be so frustrated if you can’t articulate to a donor what you need from him.
  4. The non-profit has a “low” view of donors—This is rampant in non-profits.  They look at donors and their money only as a means to an end.  This is especially prevalent after a capital campaign.  Many times donors flee organizations following the campaign because they have been treated so badly.  Look to see how long donors stay with an organization.  At this point in my career, I can literally walk into a development office and within 10 minutes tell what the attitude toward donors is.  Make sure you walk around the development office before taking a job at a non-profit.
  5. The organization has a weak board—You may need to really dig into this to find out, but a weak board means the executive director probably has too much power and the support from the community is low.  Avoid this.
  6. Lack of a leadership/management team—If the non-profit does not have a solid leadership management team, that can indicate that the leader doesn’t value management or fears dissent.  He or she needs to get ALL the results rather than work through others to get things done.  These kinds of leaders set up elaborate systems to control even the smallest details of the organization.  If you see this, get out of there fast.
  7. Lack of “team” atmosphere.  This is extremely important.  Obviously, this stems from poor leadership, but you do not want to be a part of an organization where everyone is looking out for himself or herself only.  Unfortunately, Richard and I have seen this time and time again.  What happens is that employees are so afraid of losing their jobs and making their goals that they will hurt other people and other departments to prop themselves up.  This creates a “siloed” organization and a toxic environment.  When you are interviewing, this has to be at the top of your list to discover.

Well, there you go.  These are all things to avoid in a non-profit.  Ultimately, you want – and deserve – to be in a place that honors employees and donors – the critical people who are serving to carry out its mission. If it’s not that kind of place, you don’t want to be there.  This is your career.  Take care of it and it will take care of you.