graphic of seesaw with life work balanceThe demands on a major gift officer are enormous. I don’t have to spell them all out to you, because you live it. The same can be said for a development director at a small nonprofit who has to be “everything fundraising” at your nonprofit.
I know firsthand. That was my life for the first eight years I was a fundraiser. While incredibly rewarding, I know I sacrificed my home life for work. I think that in many respects, nonprofit work – especially the work of major gifts – is much tougher than the for-profit world.
There is so much pressure on nonprofits to keep costs and overhead low that it’s you that ultimately has to pay the price. You probably don’t have “wellness” perks, or an administrative assistant that will support your work like they do in for-profit companies. Surveys taken of non-profit fundraisers all point to people who are overworked, stressed out and unsupported.
This is one reason you leave so often for what you think is going to be a greener pasture, only to be bashed in the head with the same reality at your new job.
Managers and leaders, take note.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy had a good article on April 4, 2017 called “Wanted: Personal Time.” What I like about the article is that it talks to leaders, managers AND front-line major gift officers about the responsibilities each has to help create balance between work and home. There was a good quote from Beth Kanter:

“Turnover in the development office can make it harder to foster strong donor relationships and raise money consistently. In addition to the odd hours the job often requires, fundraisers might be shouldering other duties, such as prodding board members to help raise revenue. It’s on the individual fundraisers to develop personal strategies to reduce stress, and it’s on the nonprofits to foster a workplace culture in which employees can thrive.”

If you are a manager or leader, you have a responsibility to your major gift officers to help them balance their work with the life they lead outside your nonprofit. Yes, I know, another responsibility; but if you think about it, it’s a long-term strategy for success for your major gift program.
Sometimes it’s about pay, but mostly it’s about helping your MGOs by giving them administrative support, flexible hours, more time off. There are small things you can do to help your major gift staff balance their work and life. Perhaps your MGOs won’t achieve the perfect work-life balance, but you might help them achieve what one person in the article referred to as “work-life integration.”
If you are a major gift officer, what are you doing to reduce your stress level? Richard and I have written many times over the years on the importance of “preserving self.” We talk about this stuff because it’s just as important as having a good strategy for one of your top donors.
We have seen too many good major gift officers leave the field because they are so overworked and stressed out – it becomes too much. We also know good MGOs who, because they have taken responsibility for their own emotional health, have thrived even under heavy pressure. They have figured out ways to create balance in their lives.
Here are some ways they have done this:

  • Ask to work from home 1-2 days a week.
  • Meditate 20 minutes every morning.
  • Work from home the morning after a long road trip.
  • Say “no” to outside projects that have nothing to do with your caseload.
  • Ask for four weeks of vacation per year.
  • Ask for administrative support.
  • Exercise every day.
  • Go on an annual retreat, alone.
  • Take a “mental health” day off once per quarter.
  • Take a class and learn something new.

What is interesting about some of these things is that the major gift officers asked for these things from their managers… and many of them got it. It’s kind of like your work with donors – “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” If you have a good manager or leader and you are performing at your job, he or she should be open to helping you achieve more of a balance in your life. Ultimately, it will lead to your being happier and much more loyal to your organization.
Take care of others, and take care of yourself.