Feeling Alone? 5 Ways MGOs Can Stay Connected
Almost daily, Richard and I receive letters and emails from readers of our Passionate Giving Blog. They talk about the fact that they are either "the lone voice in the wilderness" or "on their own with no support." Some of the communication is quite hard to read because we can understand the loneliness of some development professionals and the utter lack of support they feel from their managers and leaders.
I often have said that major-gift fundraising is one of the hardest professions. One of the "hard" parts is that a major gift officer (MGO) often is "alone" to fend for his or her self. It’s kind of the nature of the job.
Think about it. Many times others in your development department don’t get what you do. They may be working on the direct-response program and they are always in the office, but you are not. They may feel you are not even part of the team because you are out of the office so much. Or there is resentment because you always get to travel. As if that is some kind of Disneyland experience. You are on the road, visiting donors. After a full day of visiting with donors, you are back at your hotel in small town at a crummy restaurant. That is not always easy.
Or, Richard and I often hear from MGOs how they feel a total lack of support from their managers. Oftentimes their managers don’t understand their jobs so support is hard to come by.
Some days it can feel really tough—and lonely.
Now, if you are like me, your tendency would be to just kind of sweep all those feelings under the rug and try not to think about them very much. But, I’ve learned over my life that doing that just makes it worse. In fact, Richard always is telling me, "Bring it into the light, Jeff. It’s hard, but do it."
This is good advice.
So, if you are feeling, at times, that you are alone in your work, don’t deny those feelings. Sit with it awhile and try to figure out what you need to feel connected to your donors, colleagues and the mission of your organization. Then, take the responsibility for yourself to get what you need.
Here are some thoughts on how to stay connected as an MGO:
- Everyday, before you start work, read your mission and vision statement. I know it sounds a bit silly, but by doing this ritual every day, you stay connected to it and remind yourself why you are doing this work.
- Demand (in a gentle way) that you and your manager meet every week at a set time. This is an opportunity for you to report back on what you are doing and to keep your manager aware of all the issues you deal with in the field. Many times MGOs feel alone because they think they are just on their own with no support. I counsel those MGOs to take responsibility for their "work health" and ask for it.
- When you are on the road, make sure you set up systems to connect back to the office and home. This forces you to connect back with your colleagues in the office to let them know what is happening with you on a daily basis or to check in with your manager to give him or her a verbal update on your donor visits. I always find it necessary to check in—same on the home front. When you are away, you need to have that connection back to your home as well.
- Set up a monthly meeting with your colleagues in the development office to let them know what you are doing. Again, you might find this strange, but for the MGOs who do this, it really helps them form bonds with their colleagues who are not working with major donors. You are part of a team. People create stories in their heads about what you do all day when you don’t communicate regularly. Then distrust happens.
- Spend time alone. What? Didn’t I just talk about how lonely it gets as an MGO? Yes, and one of the reasons is that MGOs usually have a hard time being comfortable about being alone. I know this firsthand. MGOs are usually wired to be with others, they are the life of the party, they love being with people. The minute they are not connecting with others they go to a dark place. Spending time in mediation or being quiet and alone is a good practice for us "people persons." We need to get to a place where we can feel comfortable being alone. This allows us to not feel lonely so much.
There you are. I hope these can be helpful to you as you navigate through this journey of being an MGO. You have a tough job. This perhaps can make it easier for you.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.