Two heart-shaped lockets.You have two best friends as a MGO, other than your caseload donors.
Program and finance.
These are the folks that are the fuel and engine for all of your fundraising. Without them, you’re dead in the water.
Program and finance in the non-profit world are like product development and manufacturing in the commercial world. They produce the “product” that you, as a MGO, “sell” to your donors.
You can’t succeed without them.
And don’t think that it’s just program that produces the product, and you can leave finance out of the conversation. Nope. Finance is very much involved in the “pricing” of the product – tracking how much things cost (including all the costs of a program category and/or project) and being the source of information on how money was used.
No, you can’t leave finance out.
And since you, as a MGO, depend so much on finance and program for the essence of what you’re talking to donors about, it follows that you would spend regular quality time with them.
Do you?
If you don’t, Jeff and I don’t know how you’re going to be successful in your job.
At the organization you work for, you might be in a situation where your manager, or even the leader above him or her, is telling you something along the lines of: “look, you know what we do, so get out there and raise money!”
We hear some version of this statement a lot.
It’s a statement made from ignorance. Ignorance about how things really work in a non-profit, how they work in fundraising, and how donors actually function.
The fact is that MGOs need to spend a lot of time knowing the product before they can effectively present it to a donor. And that could take months. Yes, months.
I know that you, as a leader, really need the money to come in by next Thursday. That’s why you hired that very capable and gifted MGO. But the money needs to come in now! You’re facing deficits and a looming financial crisis. That’s why things are so urgent.
We get that.
But you’ve spent a lot hiring that MGO, and it would be wasted money to just throw them out to the donors to “get the money.” So focus the first effort on product familiarization. The MGO needs to know the product.
And if you’re a MGO reading this, take the following steps to get yourself in the right place on this subject:

  1. Show your manager this blog and have a calm conversation about why you need to spend time, first, learning in greater detail what the organization does. Or don’t show your manager the blog – just talk to him or her.
  2. Then book time with your program leader and their subordinates to dig into the program. Ask what they do. Identify the societal problem that is being addressed. Find out how they measure impact. Collect stories of needs and results. Get deep into it, including understanding the program budget by category of effort.
  3. Go to the front line of program delivery, and experience it. And if more questions come up, go back to the program managers and ask more questions.
  4. Then spend time with finance and get their view on the money related to program and the program categories.
  5. Plan to do some form of this at least once a month; if you can’t do it that frequently, then every other month. We like once a month just so you stay in touch. It doesn’t have to be long – just touch base.

You have two best friends in major gift work. Add them to your list of friends and treat them as you would any friend. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Learn from them. Teach them. Interact regularly.
It will be the best investment of time you’ll make as a MGO.