As a major gift officer, you can have the right caseload, a great strategy, solid program offers and be doing your job right – but you can still fail because of the poor relationship you have with your peers and boss. I’ve seen this happen so many times, where an above-average MGO, who has the potential to really excel, loses it relationally.
This is fundamentally because the person has misunderstood how they fit into the group and how to operate when there are so many apparently conflicting values: the boss wants this, my peers want that, and all of it is NOT what I want!
A lot of very talented people don’t make it in life because they can’t “get along” with others. They’re really good technically, but they have a nasty stench about them relationally. It’s really sad to see this. That’s why I wanted to write this short piece on the role of influence in your job.
And just to clear up those voices in your head right now – I’m talking about the proper use of influence, not manipulation. Stay with me.
Influence is defined as “the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command.” In this definition, there’s nothing either positive or negative. The term is value-free. Whether influence is destructive or constructive is determined by two criteria:

  1. Whether the targeted objectives reflect the group’s interests or merely one’s self-interest.
  2. Whether the influencing efforts used to achieve these objectives have integrity.

Political savvy and skill can help ethical, competent people sell their ideas and influence others to benefit the organization. So, the objective of influence in business can be to sell a concept; to win others to a point of view, or; to demonstrate value and gain acceptance of it.
Here are ways you, as an employee, can use your influence to promote your ideas, your position and your objectives with those above you and around you.

  1. First, be sure you’re delivering what managers want. Things like…
    • Demonstrating DIP – drive, initiative and push. Employees who consistently deliver high quality work with high energy are employees whom managers value.
    • Getting results.
    • Building relationships with them and others.
    • Making them look good.
    • Being loyal and truthful.
  2. Be pro-active with up-line managers in providing information and building relationships. You need to be “present” with those above you. Out of sight, out of mind is an operating principle here. You may think that those in authority are thinking about you with the frequency that is important to you. The fact is they are NOT – which is why you need to create appropriate information and touchpoints for up-line consumption. Appropriate touchpoints can be:
    • Regular reports on performance to show how you’re doing against written expectations.
    • Sharing of “white papers” or thoughts on philosophy and strategy to demonstrate you’re in touch with the technical aspects of your job.
    • Regular emails of stories from the donors whom you touch, in discharging your responsibility, so that you demonstrate the effectiveness of your work.
    • Passing on information and items of interest that are of interest to the manager above you – this info may not have anything to do with your job or may be personal in nature.
    • Using “outsiders” to make your point of view inside. The old adage “a prophet is not welcome in his own land” is really true in an organization. So is the maxim “familiarity breeds contempt.” While we don’t intend to do this, it’s true that the longer we’re around others, we’ll have a tendency not to value their input and wisdom. That’s why an outsider can say the same thing as an insider and be heard. Since this is true, regularly use outsiders (vendors, consultants, trusted friends, volunteers, peers, etc.) to help you communicate your agenda inside. The point of all this activity is to be “present” with those above you – to capture share of mind – to show value – to create relationship, empathy and appropriate dependence.
  3. Identify the centers of influence in your workplace. A classic socio-metric chart of an organization seeks to catalog how influence works. While you may not be able to do a full-blown study of the entire organization, you can begin to understand who influences whom in your immediate “neighborhood.” Believe me, the centers of influence in your organization do NOT go along reporting lines. Often, someone buried down in the mail room will have more influence than a top-line manager. Be aware of this.
  4. Build relationships with those centers of influence. Once you’ve identified those persons who have influence in your organization, make a commitment to spend time with them. Go to lunch. Plan social events, even over Zoom. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. This is a very important step. Remember, if they know and love you, they will help you.
  5. Clarify your message. What’s the message you’re trying to communicate? Is it that you’re a good employee; that you’re an expert in your field; that you’re needed as an important part of the team; that your point of view on the decision that is going to be made is the correct one? The point is to know what you’re trying to influence, and be clear about it.
  6. Get others on board with your agenda in advance of a decision. It has often been said that “the meeting happens before the meeting.” This is true, most of the time. And those not aware that others in the meeting have been ethically selling their ideas and positions prior to the meeting are often caught unaware and unprepared. Accept this reality. Then plan to put your point of view into the minds of the centers of influence and up-line. You need to be in a selling mode, and this needs to be done in a sensitive pro-active way that has integrity.

In his book Get Them On Your Side, Samuel Bacharach develops many of these ideas further. Pick up a copy if you’re interested.
Here’s the point I want to make in this post:
Effectiveness comes when you’re able to take good ideas and translate them into results. To a large extent, your job is about political/relational competence as well as being technically effective. This means being present with and valued by those above and around you. This doesn’t happen automatically. You must take the steps outlined in this post.
This is not about manipulation, i.e. promoting an impression or state of heart that isn’t real. If you’re doing that, you’ll fail. Be real. Be authentic. And pro-actively promote your ideas and performance with integrity, humility and honesty.