Have You Created a Toxic Environment at Your Nonprofit?
A few months ago, I saw a job posting for a major gift team leader at a very large nonprofit. I had someone who I thought would be a great candidate for this position in mind, but I wanted to find out why it was open and more about the leadership of the organization before I recommended it.
I connected with someone on the inside who had more information. She said to me, “Jeff, the candidate you have in mind would be perfect, but before they apply, I’d like to talk to them because there are a lot of red flags and I want to make sure they are fully aware of what they may be walking into.”
Now, before I go on, how sad is this? Here is a major nonprofit that — I know if you heard its name, you would, by all accounts, say, “Wow, what a great organization that is doing such amazing work.” But, internally, the nonprofit has a leadership mess and toxic environment.
Here’s what I’ve been told.
- The major gift team has had massive turnover. Major gift officers (MGOs) are “coming and going.” They are leaving about every 15 months.
- The team didn’t make its goals. There has been a lot of pressure from leadership to increase revenue and many inside the organization thought those goals were way too aggressive in the first place.
- The major gift leader resigned. The former employee was under such constant pressure to “get the money” from the CEO and board, they couldn’t take it anymore and left.
Unfortunately, Richard and I have been told basically this same story over and over with hundreds of other nonprofits — from small, one-person-shop nonprofits to large billion-dollar nonprofits.
It’s frustrating because organizations and their leadership, which are supposedly trying to do good in the world, are crushing good people’s spirits. So, here’s a job opening for which someone wanting to make an upward career move would see and immediately want to put their hat in the ring. Except now, they’d basically have to be a superhero to overcome the destructive powers of that organization’s toxic environment to be successful.
Truth told, this kind of story is what motivated us to write our latest book, “It’s Not Just About the Donor.” We were tired of hearing from MGOs — and even their managers — about the toxic environments nonprofit leadership was creating for mid-level, major and planned giving teams.
If you are a nonprofit leader, know that how you treat your people and view your donors is essential for overall success in order to bring in the much-needed revenue for your good programs. Here is just a quick list of how you can be a successful nonprofit leader and create an environment that will lift your team and donors up:
- Communicate with your major gift team.
- Provide assistance to help cross-team collaboration.
- Have the back of your major gift team.
- Know how major gifts works and how to measure achievement.
- Focus on how to best support your front-line fundraisers.
- Establish a culture of philanthropy throughout the entire organization.
- Create a vision for major donors to inspire transformational gifts.
- Lead by example.
I know you don’t want to be a leader in an organization like the one I described above. Yet it’s happening over and over again. In these toxic environments, good people are being made small, and donors are not fulfilling their passions and interests fully because you are failing to lead.
As a nonprofit leader, you have the ability to make changes that can change the lives of so many people. Now, will you do it?
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.