At Veritus Group, we get to review many major gift officer resumes for clients who are trying to hire. It can be depressing. So many folks are moving around every 1.5 to 2.5 years. I once viewed the resume of a major gift officer who, in the last 15 years, had worked with 10 different organizations.
The amazing thing to me is that these folks keep getting hired! Why? Because non-profits are so desperate for major gift talent, anyone who has had a scintilla of success (and sometime not even that much) has a pretty good chance of securing a job.
I understand if a major gift officer wants to change non-profits when the new non-profit is more aligned to their passions, or if the non-profit they are working for has terrible management and doesn’t treat their people well.
I get that. And if you are in that situation, you should be looking for a new position. Remember,
- You should always follow your passion, and
- You should not have to endure bad leadership and management that does not lift people up. Nothing is worth that.
However, many MGOs are moving around like ants whose home just got stepped on. They often move from one non-profit to another because after a year or two, the job starts to become less exciting and more mundane. The initial excitement of the work wears off, and then it becomes hard to get motivated.
I understand. Even if you are in love with the mission of your non-profit and you have really good donors on your caseload, the excitement wanes, and it becomes hard to get the same motivation like you had the first year you were doing the job.
So you start looking at other non-profits who are doing something new, or one which promises a 10% raise or lets you work one day from home. You are enticed by that, and you are willing to let go of all that hard work developing relationships with your donors so you can try something new and start all over again.
Before you know it, you have now developed a 10-year trend of jumping from non-profit to non-profit, never seriously getting to know your donors well enough to bring about transformation in a donor’s life or make a major impact on any program.
This is what CEOs and Executive Directors lament all the time. They tell us, “I bring in someone good, and right as they start really producing, they go somewhere else… it’s exasperating!”
Is that the type of career you want to build? I don’t think so. A major gift officer’s greatest impact happens when he or she helps a donor find joy through a transformative gift, which creates a substantial impact on the organization.
That usually doesn’t happen until after the novelty of the job wears off. Richard and I and our team have worked with some great major gift officers, and they have the ability to remain motivated to deepen relationships with donors for many years. This means, at times, slogging through periods that are not exciting. Their strength is understanding what they need to keep themselves motivated during those periods when it feels like you may be spinning your wheels. Here are some ways great MGOs stay motivated:
- They find someone to be accountable to. Having to check in every week with someone helps great MGOs stay focused on their plans… especially if they don’t feel like working a plan. Whether this role is filled by their direct manager, a colleague or a friend, it helps them stay on task.
- Keeping close to the need. Great MGOs know that the one thing above all else that keeps them motivated is keeping close to the need their organization addresses. They take regular time in their schedule to understand and feel the need. This helps them stay motivated during the ebbs and flows of their work.
- Change up your strategies. Yes, you have a plan, but sometimes plans need to be changed. If something doesn’t seem to be working, do something different. If you can never see your donors when they are in town in the summer, then perhaps you need to visit them in Florida in the winter. Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to change your strategy with donors.
- Develop a 3-5 year vision for your A-level donors. One way to stay motivated over the long term is to develop a vision for your top donors. They may be giving great gifts today, but what is your vision for those donors 5 years from now? Creating a long-term vision develops built-in motivation for the long haul.
- Update your caseload. At least once or twice per year, you should review your caseload to determine who stays and who comes off. This allows you to bring in new folks in a consistent way – folks who will help you build the overall value of your caseload over time. This also allows you to work with new people, keeping the caseload fresh.
No major gift fundraising job is perfect. All non-profits have flaws. If you want to develop deep relationships with donors that can help them create a transformational gift and see its real impact, you have to think long-term. Consider this before you think the grass is greener somewhere else.
Most likely it’s not.