Most major gift officers like you will leave your nonprofit sometime in the next several years to work for someone else. In fact, today you and your colleagues are moving from one nonprofit to another every 2-3 years.
Richard and I have written about this fact many times, and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a huge change anytime soon. This reality means that your major donors will have a “disruption” in their relationship with your nonprofit when you leave to take another position somewhere else.
This “disruption” can either be a good transition or a disaster. Richard and I don’t want you to create a disaster. If you truly love what you do, love your organization’s mission and love your donors… then you’ll follow our advice on transitioning your caseload to another MGO.

  1. Understand that your donors are not YOUR donors. Richard and I have witnessed some very unethical practices with major donors that have crossed the line between “getting to know your donors” and becoming friends with your donors… especially when the MGO wants to work for another organization. We’ve seen MGOs take “their” donors with them to another organization. This is not acceptable unless that donor was already a donor to that new organization. So if you’re leaving your current position, you cannot take your caseload donors with you.
  2. YOU are the key to a smooth and “honoring” transition. I know how you’re feeling. You’re pumped about your new position, and your current job feels old and stale, and you just want to get out of there now. But come back to reality and understand that you’re a professional with a long career ahead of you. One of the best things you can do as an MGO is to create an “honoring transition” for your donors and the organization you’re leaving. An “honoring transition” means writing a letter to each of your donors, telling them you love the mission but you are moving on to a new opportunity. Tell them you’ve enjoyed the relationship you have with them, and tell the donor they’ll be in good hands. Then gracefully introduce the new MGO, or inform them of whatever transition the organization plans. This will give the donor comfort, and it honors the donor in the process.
  3. Update all information. This is where nightmares are created for the person that takes your position, unless you hunker down and do your job. Before you leave, it’s your responsibility to make sure all the donor files are up to date in your database. Richard and I have witnessed the aftermath of an MGO leaving his donor records in a mess. It’s so dishonoring to the MGO coming in, and people will not think well of you… believe me. However, if you do leave with your donor records up to date and with good information, you’ll be lauded up and down the halls of your former employer.
  4. Tell the stories. It’s great to have donor records up to date, but it’s even better if you’re able to sit down with the MGO taking your place (if you can) or your manager, and one by one tell a story about each donor. This is important, as you’ll be passing on information that doesn’t always get reflected well in the notes section of your donor database. These stories will be invaluable to the person who is taking over for you, and more importantly, your donors will benefit from them because you give that MGO “a leg up” on understanding who that donor really is.

Moving on to another organization is just a reality for most major gift officers. That transition from one organization to another can be a good one, or not so good. YOU hold that key. Look at it like this: how would you like to come into a new organization as an MGO? Would you like all the donor records updated? Would you like to know the stories of the donors you’ll be creating relationships with? Would you want those donors to know that you’re coming on board all ready? Yes, yes and more yes.
Therefore do the same for the person taking your place. You’ll honor them and the organization you’re leaving.
This post was originally published on August 26, 2015