officepolitics 2013-May22
I’ve run into some situations over the last couple of months that are just painful to watch.  In fact, they are so painful that I decided it was time to write about one of them.
There have been a few times that I’ve written about staying out of the “hairball” of organizations.  Gordon McKenzie wrote a great book entitled Orbiting the Giant Hairball which basically says that in order to get anything done right you have to stay out of the bureaucracy of the organization.  Bureaucracy and all the office politics associated with it is what he calls the hairball.
As an MGO you need to “orbit” the hairball and not allow yourself to get sucked in.  As a leader or manager, while you understand the hairball, you must try to protect your development team from it.
What I’m witnessing with a number of non-profits is that leadership is just not leading.  Several months ago I became aware of a rather large non-profit that has an incredibly dysfunctional leadership team.
To begin with, everyone is afraid of confronting the CEO and his fear of fundraising.  He’s afraid to ask for gifts.  What’s worse, he won’t let anyone else ask “his” donors for gifts either.  He’s got a false notion that he can’t ask his portfolio of donors for gifts because he might upset them.
And, yes, he has a portfolio of donors that have given in the past, but are stagnant.  If you saw the names and the net worth of these individuals you would be salivating to have these donors.
This has created a problem for the entire major gift team.  The major gift officers know what they have to do.  They know they can cultivate these donors, but they’ve hit a huge wall.
Now, you have to follow this with me very closely.  So take your time reading this through.  It’s a real doozy.
The director of major gifts does not feel comfortable addressing this problem with the CEO.  But the major gift officers want to manage the donors and help the CEO overcome his fears.  However, the assistant to the CEO doesn’t want to let the MGOs get a hold of these donors because she actually fears for HER job if she’s no longer in charge of the CEO’s donors. As a result, nothing is happening with these donors because she is “protecting” her boss.  I’m not kidding.
Are you still following me on this?
Now, because the CEO has set such a wonderful example of how to cultivate and solicit donors (yeah, right), this has created a culture in which neither the board is giving nor the executive team cultivating their prospects and asking them to give.  So, what we have is a CEO, a CFO and a COO…all with great major gift prospects, who have given something in the past, just sitting there wasting away.
Right now, no one is being held accountable nor is anyone holding anyone else accountable.  Gosh there are so many problems here I’m going to have to break it down.

  1. The CEO’s fear of asking has created a destructive giving culture at this organization.
  2. The CEO has the audacity to think these donors are “his” rather than the organization’s.
  3. Everyone is afraid of everyone else.
  4. The CEO has allowed his assistant to hold donors hostage.
  5. There is no culture of “truth telling” in the organization.  In other words, there is no freedom to confront anyone without fear of losing his or her job.
  6. There is no culture of philanthropy that would see the donor as paramount and act in a donor-centered manner.

What a giant hairball of a mess!  Leaders of non-profits, if you are reading this, if you are afraid of fundraising, don’t get into the non-profit sector.  You will create a destructive, cascading effect on your entire organization if you don’t wholeheartedly embrace the goodness of fundraising.  That’s number one.  Number two, one of your jobs as a leader and/or manager is to cast out fear.  If fear is rampant in your organization you have a problem.  Address it now.
And lastly, leaders, without a healthy culture of philanthropy you will never grow.  You will not honor donors and those on your staff who work with them.  Do everything you can to promote a culture of philanthropy that lifts up your staff and your donors.
If you don’t, you’ll end up like some version of the story above.  It will not be a pretty picture.
And finally, for you development professionals and major gift officers, do all you can to “fight the powers,” but don’t get sucked into that hairball.  Better to leave that vortex of awful bureaucracy and politics and instead find a place that honors donors and you!
You’ve gotta love fundraising and, more importantly, LOVE DONORS!