a line in the sand

Part One of a Six-Part Series: Six Reasons Your MGO Will Stay at Your Organization

We all want to keep good people working with us. But in our industry, it seems as if keeping MGOs in the same job for more than a couple of years is impossible. This is really a problem because the whole objective of major gifts is to build relationships with donors.
That takes time. So when you have this kind of turnover, you also have donors who never really get to know their major gift officer enough to trust them when wanting to make that transformational investment. And you, as their manager or CEO, wonder why you can’t get traction on your major gift program?
Richard did a great job giving you six reasons major gift officers leave your organization in his recent series. I’m going to complement his writings by giving you six reasons why they will stay.
All six will come under one of two different categories: “Great Management” or “Leadership.”
Because when you boil it all down on why major gift officers stay at their organizations, we’ve seen for many years that it’s because they have really good managers who know how to develop and encourage people, and they have great leaders who know how to set forth a vision and inspire the major gift officer.
This first reason MGOs will stay is Having Clear Boundaries and Structure – and it’s all about great management. On the surface it seems counter-intuitive. As you know, MGOs like their freedom. They are “sales” people at heart. They love to meet new people and chase down donors; they are the first to shake your hand at an event.  They are like thoroughbreds ready to break out of the gate to win the Derby.
But from our many years of experience working with major gift officers, Richard and I and our colleagues have found that the most successful and happiest MGOs are the ones who have boundaries and a structure in which to work.
This is a fact.
Now, you as the manager may bristle at this, but you have to believe me that the organizations that keep their MGOs – all of them, and I mean ALL of them – have a clear set of boundaries and a structure that the MGOs are asked to work within. Here is what I mean:

  1. Clear and coherent job descriptions — From the very beginning, you set the tone with the MGO when a prospective MGO reads the job description you have put together. You can read more about what all that entails here, but a good job description is very specific and is clear about expectations and what the MGO is being evaluated on. This is the beginning for the MGO to understand that there are boundaries. Some of the job descriptions Richard and I have seen are horrid. You can keep good MGOs if, from the beginning, the MGO has clear expectations.
  2. Evaluation — Great management for MGOs includes ongoing evaluation. Don’t just do this annually as you’re required to; MGOs need constant feedback. Have quarterly check-ins on performance. Give immediate feedback on strategies that your MGOs come up with. When I’ve spoken to MGOs who have been at an organization for over five years, one of the reasons they said they have stayed is that they know where they stand. They know how their manager feels about their work. They know they have been progressing because they get that feedback from their manager.
  3. Weekly Meetings — Remember I said that MGOs need constant feedback? This is why when we work with MGOs, we meet with them on a weekly basis. This allows us to give immediate feedback regarding different moves, actions and strategies that the MGO is making. It also allows you as the manager to keep your MGOs disciplined, accountable and focused. To be honest, many times when we first implement these weekly meetings, the MGOs resist. They don’t like it; but then over time, they realize the power it has to keep them focused and to get positive feedback. Within a couple of months, the MGOs who push back the hardest on weekly meetings say it’s now the best thing for them.
  4. Structure — MGOs who stay with an organization do so because they know what their job is and what their focus should be on. Creating a structure for your MGO, which includes having no more than 150 donors on her caseload, tiering her donors A-C, putting a revenue goal and strategy to every donor and cash-flowing those goals are essential for MGO success. Then it’s critical to allow the MGO to form relationships so she can know what her donors’ passions and interests are, and to understand the donors’ stories on why they give. You will find that when you create this type of structure, the MGO is actually more creative with how she cultivates, stewards and solicits her donors.

Richard and I have met many major gift officers who have been with the same organization for 10, 15 and sometimes more than 20 years. When they talk about why they are still with their organizations, they always mention that their managers provide a solid framework to work within, a structure that includes all four of these areas. As a manager, if you want to keep your MGOs for the long term, providing boundaries and structure is essential – and it will allow you to develop donors who will trust you enough to give that transformational gift.