Shouting at employees.

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series on Management and Major Gifts

Veritus exists because it’s hard to manage major gift programs and major gift officers – so we help.
My business partner Richard Perry has great management and business acumen. He’s led a number of successful businesses because he’s also a skilled manager. Many years ago, he took those business skills – along with the discipline learned from direct-response fundraising – and applied them to major gifts.
The results were astounding!
Over the years, Richard and I and our Veritus colleagues have worked with hundreds of major gift officers, their managers and executive directors. In that time, we have learned more than a few things about how to manage and lead major gift officers to greatness.
Today, I am starting a two-part series focusing on what we have learned. I want to share with you the good, the bad and the ugly, and give you tips on both what works and what to avoid. Since I personally like finishing on a positive note, this first part is things to avoid as major gift manager.

Major Gift Management Fails

When we start working with MGOs in an organization, we hear a lot of terrible stories about how they have been managed over the years. Many times, MGOs succeed in spite of the lack of good management they receive. Here are some of the FAILS we have seen that we hope you can avoid or change in your own shop.

  1. There is no structure. There are some managers out there that think it’s best to just leave their MGOs alone and not “hover” over them. Good MGOs want to be managed. Bad managers don’t facilitate goal setting, creating strategic plans or tiering donors.
  2. New Money is Covering Up the Loss of Old Money. When evaluating the effectiveness of their major gift program, many managers are only looking at the bottom line: “did we bring in more revenue from major donors this year than we did last year?” Yes, that is one way to evaluate the program and the performance of an MGO. However, that does not tell the complete story. Most managers we know don’t review how the same donors who gave last year are giving this year. In other words, they don’t know what the MGO’s donor retention or donor value attrition is for his portfolio of donors. By looking only at the bottom line revenue numbers, they don’t see donor retention or value attrition, because new donors who came onto major gift portfolios in the new year are covering up those important metrics. This is a common management failure.
  3. MGOs are not held accountable. This is a huge problem in our industry. There are so many good MGOs who are failing because they have no manager who will hold them accountable to their goals. “Just bring in 10% more than you did last year,” is often what MGOs hear from their managers. That is NOT managing! Create the structure that produces goals and strategy, then provide the accountability.
  4. Total lack of communication. “I never hear from my manager.” This is what we often hear from MGOs. So the MGO can go for months without ever really sitting down with her manager; then when the MGO doesn’t make her revenue goals, the manager is “blindsided” by the lack of performance. Hello? When you don’t communicate with your MGO and don’t have regular check-in meetings, things run amok. As a manager, you cannot expect great performance from your staff if you are not communicating with them and hearing from them what is happening with their donors.
  5. Nothing (or very little) to present to donors. As a manager, you are trying to do everything you can to make your MGOs successful. One of those things is to make sure that your MGOs have offers at different price points to “sell” to their donors. As a manager, one of the best ways to support their work is to help them craft inspiring offers for donors to fund. This means being the MGO’s advocate with finance and program when sitting down at the table to understand all the non-profit’s projects and programs. It means stressing the need to get all costs, including overhead, structured into the overall ask. I’ve been in too many meetings with MGOs who lament that they have nothing to present to donors. This is a management failure.
  6. Bad relationships with other departments. I don’t know how many MGOs I’ve worked with who have encountered significant resistance from finance and program folks because their manager has done a poor job of cultivating relationships with them. Here’s the deal: if you are a good manager, YOU do the blocking and tackling necessary to help your MGOs succeed. Pave the way for them by having great relationships with the executive team, HR, finance and programs. It will make your MGOs’ lives so much easier.
  7. Weak relationship with Executive Director or CEO. There is nothing worse for an MGO than when he has a donor he wants to solicit, but the ED or CEO won’t cooperate because they either have a disdain for fundraising or they are too important for the MGO to be working with them. Seriously, I’ve had MGOs say they can’t bring in the ED or CEO unless their manager is leading on it. So the manager has let her ego get in the way of actually serving the donor.
  8. Gotta “have the back” of your major gift team. As the manager of an MGO or team of MGOs, one of your jobs is to “have their backs.” This means you help get your high-performers more salary or benefits. You communicate to the organization the work they are doing, and highlight their great work. In short, you become their advocates to make it easier to do their job… whatever that may entail. Unfortunately, Richard and I rarely see this from managers.
  9. Everything and everyone is a problem. This is one of the biggest failures that we see from managers. Instead of celebrating the successes of their team, we more often than not see managers who only go down a dark path with their MGOs. They belittle them, they make them feel small, and they don’t show them the support they deserve. For MGOs to be successful, they have to have a champion by their side supporting them. Too often, we see managers who only manage when there is a problem.

These are the FAILS in management we have witnessed over the years that have a damaging affect on the success of major gift officers and major gift programs. As a leader or manager, if you can avoid these, you have a chance to see your major gift officer thrive. Next time, I will focus on all the great successes we’ve seen from managers and how they support their teams.