what change are you making?

Are you currently looking for your next major gift position? Have you been at an organization for several years and feel you want to “take it to the next level” with your career? Maybe you have been in your current position for a long, long time and you feel that it’s time for you to make a change.

The market for great MGOs is good. We are witnessing a shift in how non-profits see the value in having a major gift program. But that doesn’t mean all non-profits are the right fit for you – even if the money seems really good.

Over the years Richard and I have received a ton of calls and e-mails from folks who want advice about making a change in their job. Some of these calls are from really frustrated MGOs who have terrible managers, and the leadership of the non-profits they work for are not supportive of their work. Others are either searching for a cause they are more aligned with, or they are just looking for a new challenge.

For those wanting to move because their current work environment is toxic, we always counsel them to make sure they have taken all the steps necessary to be part of the solution first. Richard and I don’t like the trend of MGOs moving to new organizations every 2.3 years. But we also don’t want MGOs to feel like their spirits are squashed, and all the joy is being sucked out of them.

So if you are thinking of finding another job because you don’t like the situation you are in, our first advice is to make sure you have been part of creating a solution to make it better. After you have done that, if you still dread waking up and going to work, then it may be time to move on.

I’d like to give you some thoughts to consider before you make your next move. I feel it’s good to get your head on straight about this stuff before you leap into your next position. Here we go:

  1. What is your motivation for leaving? Money, higher position, better alignment to mission, just need a change? Make sure you are “at peace” with why you want to make a move. By the way, leaving just for the money has the potential to hurt you in the long run if you are not aligned to the mission.
  2. What is the cause or mission of the organization that you really resonate with? In other words, what are you passionate about? Richard and I have worked with so many MGOs who are technically very good, but they don’t have a heart for the mission. Many of them came on board with their organization because the money was good; but over time, they realized they didn’t have a passion for the cause. You can’t fake passion. If you are building relationships with donors, they see right through you. So this is something you really need to spend time on.
  3. Does the organization value major gifts? Many organizations give lip service in their support of major gifts. But as you search for organizations (or if organizations are searching you out), you have to find out how the organization views major gifts in relation to all the other fundraising they do. I’ve known MGOs who go into a seemingly great situation, and then they later find out that the non-profit doesn’t want to put in any resources to fund the program beyond paying your salary. Don’t allow yourself to get into a mess like that. Do your homework on the organization. Ask the right people tough questions on how they want to grow the major gift program. If they are not satisfactory and you have misgivings, most likely this organization will not give you life. If you are in an interview with the Development Director and Executive Director, ask them tough questions about how they would support your work and give the proper amount of investment into your program and donors.
  4. What kind of systems, processes, and support does the organization have, as it relates to major gifts? Find out if the organization has a system for thanking, reporting back and stewarding donors. Ask about their donor database and whether they have a moves management component to record donor information. Find out what type of administrative support they give for the major gift team. Many times MGOs get hired and they have their view of what the job entails, and then they find out they don’t have the time to actually do the job because they have no support and are bogged down in paperwork and details. Find out this stuff before you say “yes.”
  5. Is the job description clear? You may laugh at this, but Richard and I have seen so many job descriptions that are so sparse in understanding what the job entails – or they are so long and out of control it seems you’d have to be three people to actually do the job. The job description can be a clear indication of how the organization views major gifts. Richard has written posts on this, and you can check out his sample of a good job description. Take this seriously. How are you evaluated? What are the metrics that are important to the organization? If it’s not clear, you need to ask why. The lack of a good answer helps you in your decision.

I hope these five areas will help you if you are considering a new position as an MGO. Be mindful of your next job. It’s crucial for you, and for the new donors you will be developing relationships with. So, what is your next move?

Jeff

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2 Comments

  • Nancy D says:

    This is a highly accurate description of some of the pitfalls Major gift officers can unknowlingly fall into. I worked for an extremely well known and regarded nonprofit as a regional director. The department was being totally revamped: all new people, new resources, etc. This same organization has the best corporate partner program I’ve ever seen, a growing foundation program, and a state of the art direct mail program. Sounds like a good bet. You know what? They are not very dependent on major gifts – hence the administrative support for 9 major gift officers was NONE – ridiculous! The prospect manager was largely untrained. There was a large staff handling gift processing but no bandwith and actually, no motivation, for helping with special handling for some major donors. Major gifts is a highly personal undertaking, and this organization is a well-oiled machine that is not structured and not interested in changing their procedures. What a disappointment. They were paying me six figures to individually print, fold, address, stamp and mail my own cultivation letters; to enter contact and research updates into a complicated data system; and to do mountains of othetr admin tasks, while wondering why almost no one could make 12 calls per month.
    When interviewing for a position, it is human nature to only hear what you hope is true — everything is well done, well supported, etc. It is imperative to talk with others who have left to find out the full picture in order to make an informed decision about joining.

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