A couple of years ago, I was helping to manage a Major Gift Officer at a medium-sized non-profit. Mary (not her real name) was a veteran fundraiser who was struggling with making her revenue goals when I met her. Her manager was concerned because she had been a high-performing fundraiser over her career, her donors really liked her, and staff loved her; but over a period of the last 2-3 years she wasn’t meeting her revenue goals.

What was happening? I quickly identified the problem. Over time, Mary was taking on so many different tasks that she lost focus on the one thing she was really responsible for: her caseload.

Because she was one of the longest-tenured employees of the non-profit, everyone came to her to get answers… for just about everything. Additionally, Mary kept taking on responsibilities that had nothing directly to do with her caseload of donors.

It was actually quite impressive how many tasks she had taken on… except that she was failing at her most important responsibility: to cultivate, steward and care for her 150 donors.

I sat with her early on, and I asked her what her work entailed. Here are some of the things she was taking on:

  1. Planning events
  2. Coordinating volunteers
  3. Attending all leadership meetings
  4. Attending planning meetings with the direct-response team
  5. On the “new employee” welcome team
  6. Leading “clean up” days at her office
  7. Self-appointed “ambassador” to show guests around the organization
  8. On the “policies and procedures” committee of her non-profit
  9. Coordinating the employee-of-the-month voting and award ceremony

…and even more. I mean, the fact that she had any time at all for her caseload was nothing short of miraculous. And none of these responsibilities was in her job description. She had just acquired them over time because it made her feel, in her words, “more important and needed.”

But in her quest to feel that way, she had lost her way with her real job.

Now, Mary’s story may seem extreme, but Richard and I find some version of this with many MGOs who are struggling with their caseloads.

They have taken on so many responsibilities OR have been given those responsibilities by unwise managers, things outside their core work, that they’ve lost their way. The result is that their major donors are not cared for properly.

What happened with Mary is that we helped her shed any responsibility or task that had nothing directly to do with her caseload. We created a structure for her portfolio, and then we helped her to focus just on her donors. Within six months she was back on track. While it was difficult emotionally for Mary to let go of all those responsibilities, her self-worth and emotional well-being skyrocketed – because she was having so much success with her caseload.

Looking back on it, had Mary been appreciated for her good work earlier in her career by her manager and executive director, she may never have taken on all those tasks and responsibilities in the first place; she would have felt “important and needed” already.

So, as a major gift fundraiser, I urge you to take stock of all that you do right now that isn’t part of working with your donors. All of those things are taking you away from knowing the passions and interests of your donors, the one thing that will help you create dynamic offers and inspire donors to give.

Here’s a quick guide for how to start identifying and unloading those tasks and responsibilities. It’s a weight that you cannot afford to carry.

  1. Make a list of everything you do.
  2. Compare this to your job description and identify what’s been added to your plate that shouldn’t be there.
  3. Review your job description for some potential changes too.
  4. Create a plan for unloading each task or responsibility that does not match up with the primary focus of your role: working with your donors.
  5. Bring this plan and your list to your supervisor to discuss how you’ll make this happen.

Cultivating, stewarding and caring for your donors is a huge job. In many ways, it’s almost more than full-time. Getting rid of anything that doesn’t allow you focus on your portfolio will free you up and allow you to succeed.

You’re a major gift fundraiser, a job I think is the greatest one can have. Do that.


This blog post originally appeared on the Passionate Giving Blog on August 3, 2018.