3 Ways to Manage Change in Major Gifts
Resistance to change is a regular occurrence in our work with major gift officers. Most often, it is the director of development or the major gift officer who, on the front end, has difficulty with our work, which has usually come into existence because a manager higher up wants to improve the performance of the major gift program or is not satisfied with how things are going.
Either way, the first months of trying to cause change can be pretty painful. And sometimes the pain lasts for quite a long time.
It’s easy to understand why. If you have a stake in how you have done things for years and years, allowing change to come into your environment sort of feels like you are admitting that your way has not and does not work.
Here’s a perfect example: We are working with a major gift officer (MGO) in a large organization in the South. This MGO has been trucking along doing it his way for over six years. His caseload is enormous — over 900 donors — and he gets credit for every gift that comes in from those 900 donors even though, upon our inspection, he has only actually connected with 11 of them!
Anyone can see this is not right. But this is the system that has been “working” for the organization for all of these years.
Now we have come in, and it is no easy task to change this around.
But here’s the thing: This MGO is very talented. He is above average in his communication skills, personal style and major gift experience. So the future is bright, but the current system has to go. And it is our job to help this MGO see that we are his partners, not his adversaries in this journey.
There’s another typical situation we face: A director or VP of development who has been “forced” to use our services because the results he or she is getting in major gifts is not meeting expectations, and who is fighting change all along the way.
Even though we make the case that major gifts management is labor intensive and fundraising leaders should view us as a partner — an extension of his or her management team — it is usually a difficult case for some of these good managers because (a) the director of development has to prove that he can manage this work or (b) she is afraid that letting someone else do it will “show them up.” The truth is that all the work we do enhances the directors of development and MGOs standing, but sometimes that is difficult for people to see.
So why is change so difficult? Torben Rick, a management consultant, gives several reasons:
Misunderstanding about the need for change/when the reason for the change is unclear. If there is not understanding about the need for change, then resistance surfaces. Especially from those who strongly believe the current way of doing things works well… and has worked for 20 years!
Fear of the unknown. One of the most common reasons for resistance is fear of the unknown. People will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe — and perhaps more importantly, feel — that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction.
Lack of competence. This is a fear people will seldom admit. But sometimes, change in organizations necessitates changes in skills, and some people will feel that they won’t be able to make the transition very well.
Connected to the old way. When people in an organization are asked to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem, you will be setting yourself up against all that hard wiring, all those emotional connections to those who taught the audience the old way.
Low trust. When people don’t believe that they, or the organization, can competently manage the change there is likely to be resistance.
Changes to routines. When we talk about comfort zones, we’re really referring to routines. We love them. They make us secure. So there’s bound to be resistance whenever change requires us to do things differently.
Change in the status quo. Resistance can also stem from perceptions of the change that people hold. For example, people who feel they’ll be worse off at the end of the change are unlikely to give it their full support. Similarly, if people believe the change favors another group/department/person, there may be (unspoken) anger and resentment.
Benefits and rewards. When the benefits and rewards for making the change are not seen as adequate for the trouble involved.
If you are in a situation in major gifts where change is happening, you can choose to resist that change or you can embrace it. Here are three ways to help you on the journey:
- Accept the fact that everything is in decline. The second after you design a course of action or you make a commitment or you set up a system — the second after you take that action — it begins to decline. That is the way life works, which is why you need to manage things.
- Embrace management, focus and accountability. This point is one of the biggest missing pieces in major gifts. There are countless consultants and major gift gurus who believe that the main thing in major gifts is crafting the ask or how you relate to the donor. And there is a volume of information, seminars, podcasts, books and blogs on these subjects. But if you don’t have a good product (program) to present to a donor; the MGO lacks focus, discipline and accountability; or if the MGO is relating to the wrong donors, then all the help in these areas is truly wasted. Choose today to embrace being focused on a few qualified donors and truly managing those relationships. And allow yourself to be held accountable for how you do it.
- View change, good or bad as a gift. My wife, who is a very spiritual and gifted woman, often reminds me that all things happen for a reason. All things, good and bad. If bad change is coming your way, it is a signal that you need to move to a different place. If good change is coming your way, it is a sign you need to change. Either way, you win. Believe this and practice it.
If the change you are experiencing in major gifts is a request to treat donors as partners vs. sources of cash, or work with only qualified donors, or to organize your work so you are having a full month of meaningful connections with donors, or you are being asked to create goals and plans for every donor on your caseload, then manage that plan — if that is what you are being asked to do then jump on board. It will only help you.
As Benjamin Franklin said: “When you’re finished changing, you're finished.” Don’t stop changing. Change is good.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.