armswideopen 2015-Sept16

Every week, Richard and I get letters from our blog readers. We love hearing what is going on with folks who work with major donors. Recently, though, we’ve been receiving quite a few emails and phone calls from folks who are AFRAID they are going to lose their job because their manager is pushing to “get the money,” rather than establishing relationships with donors.

No one wants to be or should be in fear concerning their job.

Now, Richard and I are not naïve. There are always two sides to a story. But when multiple folks start telling the same story, it feels like a trend. So let’s break down what is happening.

Managers are putting pressure on MGOs to “get the money in the door.” Why are they doing this? One reason is that they also have goals, and all their boss may understand about major gift fundraising is that it can bring in large amounts of money fast. This is especially heightened during the last quarter of the calendar year.

I notice this psychology with managers and leaders sometimes. They “talk” a good game when they give lip service to being donor-centered, putting relationships first, seeing donors as part of their mission… yet when the revenue gets shaky, they go into a sort of “panic mode” and pass down that panic to the MGO. This becomes cyclical.

Bad managers in this panic mode start threatening their MGOs by throwing out the “relationship-building stuff” and move into “just bring in the money, whatever it takes.” Then they subtly (or not so subtly) scare the MGOs by saying that if they don’t perform, they are in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

This is when we get emails and phone calls from panicked MGOs. While every situation is unique, here is generally what we tell them so they don’t have to live in fear any longer.

  1. Have you worked your plan? You may or may not be on goal right now with all of your caseload donors. However, the most important point is whether or not you are working your strategic plan that you and your manager reviewed and approved many months ago. If you are working your plan, that is all you can do. The rest is up to your donors. I always ask this question first, because if you haven’t worked your plan, then your manager has a reason to be nervous.
  2. Have you been communicating everything to your manager? This is absolutely key. If you are working your plan and you are not making your revenue goals, there is a story there for you to tell. Perhaps a donor is ill or their circumstances have changed, or they will give later then you thought. All of that needs to be communicated to your manager so he can have comfort that you are still doing everything you can.
  3. What is your manager asking you to do that is not part of your plan? When managers get nervous, they sometimes panic and ask you to go after money from your caseload donors that you shouldn’t be going after. Perhaps your manager has some wisdom about being more aggressive. You have to decide. But if it’s not part of the plan, ask your manager why he or she wants you to go outside the plan (that everyone has already agreed on) and potentially hurt donor relationships. Remember, YOU have the relationship with the donors, and YOU are in the position to know them best. If you are confident that you have done all you can with your donor, you have to protect that relationship.
  4. How often are you meeting with your manager? Richard and I ask this because too often managers and their MGOs are not meeting regularly, and communication breaks down fast. If you are meeting weekly and you are showing the manager where you are on your goals (and telling the stories behind the variations), then you two should be in sync with each other.
  5. Are you passionate about the mission, and do you want to stay? If I’m on a call with an MGO and we’ve gone through all these questions, and it’s apparent the manager is way off base, then I want to know if the MGO really wants to stay in that situation. This is a tough one. We realize the economic reality for the MGO. Yet if your spirit is going to be continually crushed, do you really want to stay in that environment? Perhaps you do if you are absolutely in love with the mission, and you see that changes could be made. However, sometimes the best thing for you is to get out of that situation and pursue other opportunities. Depending on how long you have been there, it may be time to move on. Remember, if you are good, there are plenty of MGO positions out there.

We don’t want you to work in fear. This job is hard enough. If you are working your plan and communicating to your manager and leadership… that is ALL you can do. The fact is that when Richard and I see MGOs who work their plan and communicate effectively, nine times out of ten their revenue goals are made. So do the work you know you should be doing, and let the fear go. You are so capable!



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