I will admit to you right now that I’m not a good manager. Don’t get me wrong – I love people, I love being part of a team of people – but I don’t find any great joy in managing them and helping them learn new things and be great.
Does that make me a bad person? I hope not. But at least I know where my gifts and strengths lie, and what really brings me joy. And while I’m not a good manager myself, I really, really appreciate people who are good at it. In fact, I’m in awe of these people. I know for a fact that good managers are essential to creating and fostering outstanding MGOs.
Being in the non-profit world for so long, I’ve seen my share of good managers and bad ones. Today, I want to share with you all the qualities I believe make a GREAT manager that ultimately will help take your major gift program and make it soar.
First I want to dispel one myth: a great MGO will make an awesome manager. Wrong. Unfortunately, non-profit organizations mess this up all the time. In fact, what I’ve actually found is that so-so MGOs make the best managers.
Why? Because these folks know the process, they get the whole concept of building relationships and what it takes to be successful. However, they were just not wired to get results through their own efforts so, while adequate, they just didn’t find joy in it. Because they love getting results through the efforts of others, they love to manage MGOs… and they are really good at it.
In fact, if I were an ED or CEO of a non-profit and I were trying to hire a Development Director or Director of Major Gifts, I would look NOT at the star MGO, but at the “fair” MGO for the potential of being a manager of a team.
If you think I’m crazy, I will tell you that at Veritus, our team has seen this phenomenon over and over again. Do NOT hire your star MGO to be a manager. This person is a star because she finds joy in working with donors, exceeding goals and working a strategy. Leave her alone and pay her really well.
If you want to find a great manger, look for these qualities:

  1. Developers — Great managers love to develop people. They find joy in taking someone who has ability and honing their skills to become great at something. Whenever I talk to great MGOs, they always talk about how they have either a great manager or a mentor that helped shape their skills and told them the truth. Great managers develop great MGOs.
  2. Finds joy in the success of others — This is how real managers think. When one of their MGOs succeeds, they are ecstatic. Why? Because they know they have been able to help that person get to where they are. Great managers feel this in their bones, and it comes out with caring, compassion and guiding energy.
  3. A wonderful encourager and guide — MGOs need someone that will walk with them and encourage them in their journey. I’ve talked to so many MGOs who tell me over and over that their manager has not once told them “good job” or shown any kind of appreciation. This is so sad. Great managers know that saying “thanks” and telling someone he is doing a great job helps motivate people to want to do more. Why? Because they feel secure and want more slaps on the back. Who wouldn’t?
  4. Amazing communicators — World-class managers talk to their people… a lot. They have regular meetings scheduled, and they keep them. They show their people respect by telling them what senior management and leadership is doing and thinking. They are real with the folks they manage. They are not afraid to deliver tough news. They deliver that news with compassion and understanding. They have an open door. They welcome conversation and critique. They don’t punish people for opinions.
  5. They “go to bat” for their employees — The best manager I ever had not only encouraged me and thanked me for my good work, but proactively sought out influence and higher compensation for me with senior management, without my ever having to go to him. In fact, I never had to ask for a raise because my manager saw my work, and when it was time for evaluations he had already secured more money for me than I ever even thought of. Later, I asked him why he did that and he said, “Look Jeff, you’re doing an outstanding job, and you should be paid well for it; those of us in senior management need people like you at our organization. I’ve got your back.” Wow! I still tear up thinking about that moment. Great managers always have your back.
  6. They hold their employees accountable — Great managers, like really good parents with their kids, are not best friends with their employees, but they love them and treat them with respect. Part of that respect is to keep their folks accountable to goals and strategy. Sometimes this can be difficult, but a great manager doesn’t shy away from this task. In fact, they embrace it because they know that only by keeping their MGO focused and accountable to their strategy and actions will they ever be successful.

These are the attributes that make a great manager. If you are an MGO, you know this is what you want in a manager. If you are a CEO, these are the qualities in a person that will bring you comfort as you charge them with leading a team. If you are a manager, I hope you are inspired to be even better. And thank you for all the good work you do. On behalf of great MGOs everywhere, we couldn’t do it without you.