I was recently a guest panelist for Greater Public Media’s annual development conference in Washington, D.C. The topic was how to hire and retain great major gift officers.
It’s a great subject. It was the last session on a gorgeous afternoon, and the room was packed… so you know it was important to people.
One of the first questions the moderator asked me was, “what is the single greatest reason an MGO leaves a position for another one?”
My answer: Bad management and leadership.
In my research for the conference session, I read an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled, “Case Study: Keeping Fundraising Poachers at Bay.” It was written by Drew Lindsay.
He interviewed Jeanne Jachim, president of the Virginia Mason Healthy Systems Foundation. She has an unprecedented track record of keeping great MGOs. She has four of them who have been with her for over 10 years each!
That’s really something, when you consider that the national average is between two and two and a half years.
So I’m going to share with you the four things she does to keep her good people (and to weed out the bad) on her team:
- Autonomy — The Virginia Mason MGOs work within a structure, but they have the ability to work the hours they want to meet the donor’s needs. They are not micro-managed, but they have freedom to work on their own. This is a very important point. I see too many managers who watch their MGOs clock in and out of the office every day. MGOs need freedom.
- Access and Stature — All MGOs at Virginia Mason have access to the CEO and Chief Medical Officer. This means the MGOs can set up meetings directly with donors and the CEO or CMO, and they don’t have to wade through bureaucracy to make things happen. Wow, this is good! I cannot tell you how many MGOs have complained to Richard and me about this very issue. We know that if you treat MGOs as professionals, they will act that way.
- Applause — Yes, yes, and more yes! MGOs need to be recognized when they bring in a big gift or make their annual revenue goal, or even their monthly goal. That goes for the team that supports them. Ms. Jachim is quoted as saying, “We want to make it very clear that other people know that they’re doing good work.” Gosh, I love her management!
- Team Environment — Every week Ms. Jachim brings her team in to have them share with the entire group what is happening with their donors. The MGOs ask for help with problem donors or situations they can’t figure out. The group even votes on the right approach. She said that not everyone likes this approach, and if they don’t, they don’t last. So if you are not a team player, you don’t work for Virginia Mason Health Services Foundation. I love that.
These are four solid ways to keep the good MGOs you have, and to keep them from jumping ship.
At end of the session at the conference, the audience was asked how many times a month they get calls from recruiters asking if they would like to consider another position. Half of the audience gets a call weekly!
Knowing the competition for great MGOs is high, I really advise you to take these four ideas for creating an awesome environment for your team and make sure you implement them. You can’t afford not to.