There are a lot of non-profits whose donor back-office services work really well. And then there are non-profits that, for any number of reasons, lack back-office staff. This might stem from a lack of funds but, more often, it springs from the mentality of an authority figure who thinks, “If you see something that needs getting done, YOU should do it.” His/her job title should probably be “fire-putter-outer.” That’s really all he/she ends up doing.
Some people call this a “servant attitude.” Sounds pretty cool and lofty, doesn’t it? Servant attitude. This is where everyone should pitch in, no matter what your job description is, no matter how urgent YOUR current task at hand is – you should just drop everything and “serve.”
So if the MGO (and other staff, too) aren’t pitching in by working in program, running to the post office, organizing events, doing airport runs, getting lunch for someone, etc. they are viewed as elitists who can’t chip in and help. But if you do drop everything and pitch in, you are showing that you are truly a humble, service-oriented team player. I call this “killing major gifts with service” because that is what happens. Major gifts work suffocates and dies because the MGO is engaged in “service” activity he/she has been asked to do – activity that has nothing to do with the MGO’s caseload.
Any leader or manager who fosters this kind of thinking and behavior should be fired.
OK, now, hold on!! Fired? Isn’t that a little strong? I mean, all the person wants is for people to work as a team and honor the workloads and objectives of the group. What is wrong with that?
First, any leader who gobbles up the labor of an employee to an extent where they can’t even get their own job done is doing a terrible disservice to that employee. That is why job descriptions exist – to help the employees know what they are supposed to do and how they will be evaluated. Good job descriptions also create boundaries for others, so they don’t assign items outside their job descriptions to those employees and thus render them powerless to actually fulfill the requirements of the jobs they were hired to do.
Second, being a team player and serving the group is about doing YOUR job in a manner that serves the group’s goals, objectives and spirit. It is not about doing another job. (OK, sometimes you might do someone else’s job and that is fine, as long as it is not common practice.)
This happens a lot in major gifts. One of our readers writes (I have edited this slightly):
“I am feeling challenged by the volume of work on my plate that doesn’t pertain directly to my portfolio of donors. They have me doing special events, PR, etc. I work for a non-profit which used to focus solely on high-end events. But as we transition to creating new revenue streams we are, in a lot of ways, wearing more hats. I support our direction, but with the day to day work load, it has been hard to carve out the time to plan strategic moves for my donors because I am attending to requests from new work areas.”
You see how this happens? It is all aboveboard. There are good motives and objectives; it sounds so reasonable. But it is rotten to the core. Why? Because the MGO is being undermined in her ability to properly manage a caseload of qualified donors. And who will suffer for failure in this area? The MGO. Not the person asking the MGO for help.
If you are in this situation, we suggest you talk to your manager about it. Here is what your core message could sound like:
“NAME, I am having a bit of a problem that you can help me with. My job is to manage a full caseload of qualified donors – a job that literally uses up every bit of my day, five days a week and sometimes includes work on the weekends. We have set a financial goal this year to secure $xxx,xxx from the good donors on my caseload. I do think we can be successful at that if I can stay focused on the caseload. But lately, I have been asked to [state work you’ve been asked to do], and it is taking me away from properly managing the donors on my caseload. If this continues I will not be able to reach the financial goals we have set. On the current course, we may have to adjust the goal to $zzz,zzz [cut the yearly goal in half] or maybe even less. This worries me. I am wondering if you could help me get back to fully focusing on my caseload?”
Say this, and then have a discussion about it. So if your goal is $800,000 you might say “We may have to adjust that goal down to somewhere between $400,000 – 500,000.” This puts the situation into a real financial context, something most managers can understand. In other words, there is a financial consequence to being asked to do non-caseload work.
You just cannot be doing anything other than managing your caseload. That work is what has the largest financial payoff. It is easy to forget that when other work needs to be done and there is a call to “serve.”
A version of this post was originally published in May 2016.