Recently, I watched an interview with Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live. The interviewer asked him this: “Why is it that actors have such success on your show, but have trouble in the ‘outside’ world when they leave SNL?” His answer surprised the interviewer.
He said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “The reason our actors are successful here is that we provide a structure – we hold our actors accountable to rehearse and rehearse until they get it right. I’ve found that creative people flourish when you provide boundaries and they are held accountable. Unfortunately, many actors fizzle out quickly when they leave here, because they no longer have those boundaries that actually set them free.”
Richard and I would say the same thing about what makes a major gift officer successful, instead of constantly struggling with no success.
Structure and accountability — when I first heard those words from my manager, many years ago, I cringed. I didn’t like the idea of someone creating parameters, having a box around me or watching over me to make sure I did what I said I was going to do… until I saw that it helped me to be successful.
From that point on in my career, I welcomed structure and accountability.
If you have been reading our blog for any length of time, you know that Richard and I have hammered this point home, over and over. We believe that it truly is the “secret sauce” of being successful in major gift fundraising.
You see, most MGOs that we work with are creative, outgoing, big-idea, people-persons. They easily get distracted, and without proper management they can be hard to tame. Someone mentions an event, and they would be the first to say they want to help. Someone says, “perhaps you need to go to that country to see what’s happening,” and they’re the first to get a plane ticket and go. In other words, on their own they will end up doing everything but cultivating and stewarding their caseload.
I’m not coming down on MGOs. I’m critical of managers or leaders who will not provide the necessary structure and accountability for their MGOs to be successful.
Another reason Richard and I are not critical of MGOs in this regard is that while an MGO at first may be resistant to structure and accountability, once they see how successful they become with it, they become its greatest advocate, like I did.
Yes, occasionally an MGO will resist it and not accept accountability; but to be honest, they don’t succeed. They flame out quickly… or they move on from job to job to job until someone recognizes they are ineffective.
So here again are a few ideas on providing structure and accountability for MGOs:
- Have a clear job description. This should focus almost solely on cultivating and stewarding major gift donors. (Read more about job descriptions here.)
- You must have a clearly defined caseload of donors. With no more than 150 donors, MGOs should know who their donors are. Richard and I have encountered numerous MGOs who say they have 300-400 donors on their caseload. You cannot be successful with that.
- You need to have a revenue goal for every donor on your caseload that is cash-flowed. This allows the manager to know where you are every month.
- You need a 12-month strategy for every donor to plan how you are cultivating and stewarding that donor. This keeps you focused on how you are going to meet and exceed your goals.
- The MGO and the manager need a weekly meeting. This makes sure the MGO is doing what he said he would do.
This is crucial for success. And like Lorne Michaels said about his actors, “providing these boundaries actually sets them free.”
He is right; you will be set free with a solid structure and accountability.