Resistance to change is something we see regularly in our work with major gift officers. Most often it is the Director of Development or the MGO who has difficulty accepting our intervention, which has usually come about because a manager higher up wants to improve the performance of the major gift program or is not satisfied with how things are going.
Either way, the first months of trying to cause change can be pretty painful. Sometimes the pain lasts for quite a long time.
It’s easy to understand why. Allowing change to your environment after years of doing things one way is difficult – it feels like admitting that your way has not worked.
Here’s a perfect example. We are working with a MGO in a large organization in the South. This MGO has been trucking along, doing it his way for over six years. His caseload is enormous – over 900 donors – and he gets credit for every gift that comes in from those 900 donors even though, upon our inspection, he has only actually connected with 11 of them!
Anyone can see that this is not right. But this is the system that has been “working” for the organization for all of these years.
Now we have come in, and it is no easy task to change this around.
But here’s the thing. This MGO is very talented. He is above average in his communication skills, personal style and major gift experience. So the future is bright. But the current system has to go. And it is our job to help this MGO see that we are his partners, not his adversaries, in this journey.
There’s another typical situation we face. A Director or VP of Development has been “forced” to use our services because his or her results in major gifts are not meeting expectations – and they end up fighting change all along the way.
Even though we make the case that major gifts management is labor-intensive, and fundraising leaders should view us as a partner – an extension of his or her management team – it is usually a difficult case for some of these good managers because (a) the DOD feels obliged to prove that he can manage this work or (b) she is afraid that letting someone else do it will “show them up.” The truth is that all the work we do actually enhances the DOD’s and MGOs’ standing, but sometimes that is difficult for these good people to see.
So why is change so difficult? Torbin Rick, a management consultant, gives several reasons:
- Misunderstanding the need for change — If staff don’t understand the need for change, resistance surfaces, especially from those who have been invested in the current method for many years.
- Fear of the unknown — One of the most common reasons for resistance is fear of the unknown. People will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe – and perhaps more importantly, feel – that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction.
- Lack of competence — Sometimes change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition very well. It’s hard for them to admit this.
- Connected to the old way — No matter how rational a new method may seem, you will be fighting emotional connections to the old way, and to those that taught it.
- Low trust — When people don’t believe that they (or the organization) can competently manage the change, there is likely to be resistance.
- Changes to routines — When we talk about comfort zones, we’re really referring to routines. They make us feel secure. So there’s bound to be resistance whenever change requires us to do things differently.
- Change in the status quo — Resistance can also stem from perceptions that some people will “lose” from all this change. For example, if people believe the change favors another group/department/person, there may be (unspoken) anger and resentment.
- Benefits and rewards — The benefits and rewards for making the change may not seem adequate to compensate for the trouble involved.
If you are in a situation in major gifts where change is happening, you can choose to resist that change or you can embrace it. Here are three suggestions to help you on the journey:
- Accept the fact that everything declines. The second after you design a course of action or you make a commitment or you set up a system – the second after you take that action, it begins to decline. That is the way life works. This is why you need to manage things.
- Embrace management, focus and accountability. This point is one of the biggest missing pieces in major gifts. There are countless consultants and major gift gurus that believe that the main thing in major gifts is about crafting the ask or how you relate to the donor. There is a large volume of information, seminars, podcasts, books and blogs on these subjects. But if you don’t have a good product (program) to present to a donor or the MGO lacks focus, discipline and accountability – or if the MGO is relating to the wrong donors – then all the help in these areas is truly wasted. Choose today to embrace a focus on a few qualified donors and truly managing those relationships. And allow yourself to be held accountable for how you do it.
- View change, good or bad, as a gift. My wife, who is a very spiritual and gifted woman, often reminds me that all things happen for a reason. All things, good and bad. If bad change is coming your way, it is a signal that you need to move to a different place. If good change is coming your way, it is a sign you need to change. Either way, you win. Believe this and practice it.
If the change you are experiencing in major gifts is a request to treat donors as partners rather than sources of cash, or to work with only qualified donors, or to organize your work so you are having a full month of meaningful connections with donors (every month), or you are being asked to create goals and plans for every donor on your caseload and then manage that plan – if that is what you are being asked to do, then jump on board. It will only help you.
As Benjamin Franklin said: “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” Don’t stop changing. Change is good.