How a Major Gift Officer Manages Up
As a major gift officer, you may be asked to manage the donor portfolio of your manager, CEO or executive director. In order to be effective, you have to have the ability to “manage up.” Managing up means that you are working with your CEO, executive director or development director to cultivate, steward and solicit a small caseload of donors by managing their time, keeping them on track and telling them what they need to do with each of their donors.
Now, many major gift officers I’ve worked with are hesitant about this because they find it intimidating to tell their boss what to do. But—and Richard will attest to this—any good manager or leader of a nonprofit will welcome and want someone under them to help them manage their caseload of donors.
Not allowing you to “manage up” will set themself up for failure. Richard and I have seen it too many times. CEOs who commit to working 25 to 50 percent of their time, and it’s nowhere near that. This is why good leaders let YOU manage them.
The whole reason to manage up is because YOU are the only one that is really thinking about your major donors all the time. That doesn’t mean leaders don’t care about donors, it’s just that they have so much going on that they need YOU to lead on the cultivation, stewardship and solicitation of the donor to be effective.
It also means that you are working with leadership to help you solicit your own donors. The only way to do that effectively is to take control of the major gift portfolios, put it on your shoulders and make it as easy as possible for leadership to help you succeed.
The key to managing up is not to assume that anyone in leadership is being proactive about their own caseload. They are way too busy. This is your job. Your responsibility and the only way this works is if you have the mindset that nothing will happen unless you lead on it.
How do you do this practically? Here are some ideas for you:
- Sit with leadership and make sure they agree to how you will manage their portfolio. Make sure they agree that you will be “telling” them what they need to do and following up to make sure it gets done—remember good leaders love that you will be managing their moves.
- Then, let leadership understand how your relationship with them will work. This means, telling them that you will help them set goals, create a 12-month strategic plan, tier the donors and work with them ongoing to help them manage the day to day by meeting with them frequently.
- Consider their caseload of donors as if it’s yours, meaning you’re looking ahead and communicating to leadership what THEY NEED to do. Good leaders want you to tell them what they should do. They don’t have the time to think about it. It’s up to you to lead on it and anticipate next moves.
- Set up a reoccurring meeting (Richard and I like weekly because they will cancel half the meetings), where you go over specific moves with donors, discuss in-depth strategy for specific donors and talk about the action items needed in the next week. This is critical to keeping them on track.
- In reviewing your own caseload, look months ahead to when you anticipate your leadership’s involvement in soliciting your donors, and get it on their schedule. Don’t surprise your CEO, executive director or development director at the last minute saying you need them to come on a donor solicitation visit. That will not go over well. The key is planning way ahead.
- Always be thinking of personal touchpoints to recommend to leaderships caseload. You need to know them almost as well as the CEO does.
- Make sure you receive the daily gift report for their donors. It’s very important that you “look out for” any of leadership’s donors (including your portfolio of donors) to properly thank in a timely manner.
- Put all of your future moves or tasks in your calendar or database. This will help you stay on top of what needs to be done every day and help you remind leadership what they need to do.
- Hold an annual review of the portfolio with the leader—go over each donor, remove those that need to come off and bring on new donors. Evaluate the year and talk about what you want to accomplish in the year ahead. This meeting will help you develop your next year’s strategic plan for your leader.
Cultivating, stewarding and managing your own donors is tough enough. Managing up requires that you stay on top of the planning, goal-setting and daily moves for your leader in order to help them be successful. And, if they’re successful, so are you.
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.