One of the questions we are routinely asked is “what are the characteristics of a good donor-centered organization?” Or, “When I’m interviewing, how will I know that these will be places that care about donors as well as their MGOs?” Or, “What kind of questions can I ask that will help me find these answers?”
Good questions, all of them.
If you haven’t read our posts on Hiring Criteria, please do so before continuing to read this post, so you can understand our philosophy and approach to hiring.
Hiring the right people is on one side of the organizational coin, and being the right organization is on the other side. You can get the right person in the wrong organization, and it will be a disaster for the person. Or the wrong person can get into the right organization and that would be a problem for the organization. Our previous posts addressed this latter point – getting the right person for the organization.
But if you, as a MGO, are out looking for a good place to land, here is what should you wonder about your future employer:

  1. Is the organization and its leadership donor-centered? We’ve written quite a lot about what donor-centered means. Essentially, you can know if an organization is donor-centered by how they talk about donors, how they handle donor receipting and thank-you’s, and how they handle donor complaints and questions. If it takes more than 2 days to process a gift and longer to send a thank you, there is a problem. If you hear any comment that diminishes a donor in any way, that is a problem. If you perceive that donors are considered more as sources of cash than true partners, that’s a problem. When you are interviewing, simply ask: “What is the role of donors in your organization?” The answer will be telling. Also ask about the receipting and reporting-back process. You will know if it’s right and donor-friendly. This donor-centered bit is huge. You do not want to be in an organization that does not value donors.
  2. Does the organization and its management value teamwork and feedback? If criticism and feedback are welcome, that is good. If the manager expresses that different gifts and abilities are needed to get the job done, that is good. But if you find a closed, top-down culture, run away.
  3. Does the management of major gifts understand that major gifts is not primarily about the money? Do they understand that donors want to fulfill their passions and interests, and the job of the MGO is to help – to uncover passions and interests of donors and match those passions and interests to the needs of the organization? If all you hear about is getting money, run away. Now, a word of caution here. You, as a MGO, do need to secure funds for program. The MGO job is about reaching financial goals. So don’t think that it is about having “nice” conversations and afternoon tea. No. You are trying to fulfill donor needs as a way of financing organizational programs. So the nuance on this point is how the organization does the activity of securing funds, not that they are securing funds or asking their MGO to secure funds. It is about how it is done. That is what you need to check out. In a good organization, a MGO will have goals, and you will need to reach them. But the underlying way you will do that will be by uncovering and serving donor interests and passions. Does the manager you are interviewing with understand that? If not, run away.
  4. Does the organization value providing and packaging program information for their MGOs? Many good MGOs are suffocating from lack of program information, and their managers don’t really care. On this subject one manager recently told me: “Look, Richard, they (the MGOs) just need to get out there and get the information!” Well, here is a manager that just doesn’t get it. You do not want to work for someone like that. MGOs need tools to work with and “product to sell.” If the organization you are thinking about working for doesn’t value this, run run run.
  5. Does the organization value telling donors they made a difference? We all know that donor retention and satisfaction is directly tied to a donor knowing that their giving made a difference. You need to know that the organization you will work with values this. If they don’t, you don’t want to join their team. Just ask: “how do you tell your donors their giving is making a difference?” You will immediately know if they really value this area. If the response is a pithy dismissive “oh we send them a newsletter” kind of answer, you will know. If instead you hear how important that function is, you will be encouraged to stay engaged.
  6. Does the organization provide appropriate admin support for their MGOs? This area is so interesting to Jeff and me. An organization hires a MGO then makes her do all her own support work, so that the MGO has to be in the office to get anything done. And we all know what being in the office means! It means not being with donors!! This is crazy. Now I realize that in smaller organizations, there are not always funds to provide a MGO with admin support. I get that. But could a volunteer help? Could the Director of Development’s assistant help? Is there some other solution so that the MGO can be out with donors? That is what you have to ask. The right answer might not be that you get to have a full-time person supporting you. The right answer is that the hiring manager supports the MGO and takes steps to actually do it in some form.
  7. Are there systems in place to handle donor data and information and provide feedback on donor performance? The organization should store donor contact information and provide information to the MGO and the manager, so that MGO effectiveness can be monitored and evaluated. Now hold it! Your stomach might tighten when you read “MGO effectiveness is monitored and evaluated.” Don’t run from those kinds of situations. Instead, run to Why? Because here is a management system that looks at how things are going. It is good that they care. It is healthy. And it means that you will be in a place where cause and effect is measured and talked about, rather than being in a place where people talk behind your back and subjectively evaluate how you are doing.
  8. Is truth-telling, openness and honesty valued? Let’s face it, even though it might hurt sometimes, it is better to know what is true than to be wandering around wondering what is. Jeff and I see so many situations where MGOs are essentially in the dark. This is not good. You want to know that truth-telling to donors, staff, vendors – to everyone – is a deeply-held value. If it isn’t, don’t take the job.

There are probably more points than this to evaluating a possible new employer. If you have some, send them our way. There is a right organization for you. It will (being filled with human beings) have its problems and challenges. But the key is this: is the leadership trying to do the right thing in these areas? Are they sincerely trying? If so, you will be in the right place.