#2 in a 2-Part Series on Management and Major Gifts

In my last post I highlighted some failures in major gift program management that we have seen over the years. Like I said, Richard and I have seen some pretty messed-up major gift programs.
But we’ve also seen some amazing examples of management that are perfect for you to emulate as you lead your own team of major gift fundraisers. I’m sure there are more examples of great management that I haven’t heard, so if you have witnessed it yourself please tell us your own stories. We’d love to hear them.

Major Gift Management Success

One of the key indicators of management success is whether or not the manager is actually someone that is naturally gifted to manage. Now you may think that is obvious, but in our industry, we see major gift managers who are put into a management position because they were great major gift officers. Most often than not, a successful major gift officer does NOT make a successful manager.
Managers are wired to want to results through the efforts of other people. MGOs are wired to want results through their own efforts. One is not better than the other, but if a non-profit wants a successful major gift program, they will hire a manager whose strength is to get results through the efforts of others that they guide and assist. This, above almost anything else, is the key to a successful major gift program. Believe us, we have seen this time and time again. Always hire a person who is a manager, not a high-performing MGO. This will set the stage for good (or great!) management.
Here are some examples of when we’ve seen great management at work:

  1. Clear responsibilities and expectations — The best we have seen in this area is where a manager from the very beginning sets clear expectations and responsibilities for the MGO. It starts with a succinct job description, outlining exactly what is expected of the major gift officer. One of the best I’ve seen clearly had the MGO’s job responsibilities and performance expectations, with a timeline so that there was no ambiguity around the job and what the MGO had to do. (Click here for an example of a good MGO job description.) A good manager sets out these clear responsibilities and expectations because she believes in providing a structured framework for her MGOs to work within. Great managers know that good MGOs need structure to be successful. Within that structure, the manager can allow the MGO freedom to express, yet still have clear parameters to work within.
  2. Working with qualified donors — Great managers give their MGOs qualified donors to work with. These are donors that want a deeper relationship with the organization. These managers either already have a qualification system in place with their mid-level program, or they have a system in place to help the MGO qualify them. It’s a huge burden off the shoulders of the MGO if they know that they are working with donors that actually want a relationship. Having a manager that understands this is critical to the success of the MGO.
  3. Reasonable goals are set — Good managers expect reasonable revenue goals from the MGO. They don’t ask the MGO to come up with a top-down overall goal for his portfolio; instead they ask the MGO to go through an exercise to create goals for every individual donor, then determine how those goals match with leadership’s expectations. Good managers also work closely with the MGO to challenge the MGO on their goal assumptions. This means that the manager will spend quite a bit of time with the MGO until both the MGO and manager feel good about the end result.
  4. Regular meetings — Whenever I ask an MGO why she likes her manager, one of the common responses is that the manager meets with her on a regular basis. Great managers communicate regularly with their team members. They have to, because this is where the manager helps the MGO with strategy, coaching, training and accountability. But the MGOs also mentioned that their managers actually keep their appointments for these meetings. This is really important. Great managers keep meetings with their team members because they really are wired to develop others. More often than not, managers who constantly have to cancel meetings with their MGOs are doing it because something is pulling them to get results through their own efforts. It’s frustrating for an MGO when his manager keeps cancelling their meetings. It shows that his manager doesn’t care. Bottom line, great managers are consistent in meeting with their MGOs because they know it’s important to each MGO’s success.
  5. Advocating for their people — Great managers help others succeed. MGOs have told me that the best management they have ever had were the managers who went to leadership to advocate for them. Whether it was to make sure that the non-profit had great projects and programs for the MGOs to “sell,” or arranging flexibility in work hours or to work from home, good managers will support their team. Part of being an advocate for your MGO is having the ability to listen. If you ask an MGO what makes a good manager, she will say “a good manager listens to me.”
  6. Provide steady guidance — Good managers know that they sometimes have to correct certain bad behaviors of their MGOs. The great managers Richard and I have known are very quick to steer their MGOs on the right track if they get off of it. MGOs are successful because they have great energy and ambition. Sometimes that is not always a positive thing, and it can get them into trouble. Good managers deal with those problems immediately, correct them and then lead on a course to avoid those problems in the future. All of this is done in a non-threatening way.
  7. Celebrating their people — One of the qualities that we have seen with great managers is that they know how to celebrate the great work their MGOs have done. They acknowledge the MGO when she has brought in a great gift. They figure out ways to incentivize and do little things to make their people feel special. It comes naturally for a good manager to treat his MGOs almost like a customer whom they want to delight. Good managers are proactive with their team to tell them of a job well done.

The result of these management attributes is that team members will feel valued because they have a work environment that is conducive to success, donors will feel valued, and revenue will soar. If you have a good manager, we would love to hear your story of the things he or she does that are so successful.