How to Be a Learning Major Gift Officer
“There is no way I can succeed, because all the people I depend on to give me resources are not doing their jobs!”
That was the reason one major gift officer, who was not doing well in his job, gave for his lack of success. And as I began to think about this, I realized that in the past, on the subject of learning, I had placed too much responsibility for my lack of learning on the competency or style of the teacher and not on my lack of action to take steps to learn.
Stop for a second to look at your situation. Is the reason you don’t have some resource or you don’t know how to do something more about your lack of action and initiative then it is about any circumstance or person outside yourself?
“Now you’re meddling, Richard!” Yes, I am. But I am doing it with good intention. Please stay with me on this because you do need to be a learning MGO. If you aren’t learning, you will not succeed in your job.
I have to confess that the subject of learning was a very boring subject for me when I was younger. In fact, I did not do well in school. I hated it. And for years I blamed the teachers and the system, and anything else I could find outside myself. Then a wise counselor helped me look inside myself and realize that the difficulty of my learning journey was about me — only about me. And that I needed to reframe education and learning in my own mind.
And I did just that, which is why I was very excited to be included in a conversation that has been going on among our Veritus Group colleagues about the characteristics of a learning person, one who desires to improve in their knowledge and skills, and one who actually takes proactive steps to do so.
What has emerged from the conversation has been the following three points:
- The teacher (read: manager or trainer) needs to provide good content in a compelling way. It needs to be interesting as well as on point. This is the content point.
- The teacher needs to believe their students have unlimited potential. Studies show that those teachers who believe in their students saw their students rise to the belief their teacher had in them. Conversely, those students who had teachers who were just dispensing information and really not interested in their development saw their students meet those low expectations.
- The student (read: MGO) needs to be proactive about acquiring and consuming the content. As Dave Meier so aptly put it in his book, “The Accelerated Learning Handbook”: “Learning, after all, is not the passive absorption of information, but the active creation of knowledge and skill. Learning is completely up to the learner and is not the responsibility of the designer or the facilitator. The designer and facilitator are responsible for setting the table with appetizing and nourishing dishes, but it’s the learner’s responsibility to eat.”
What I conclude from all of this is that there are two areas of responsibility related to learning: The first is on the part of the teacher/trainer to provide good and relevant content, and maintain a belief that those who consume that content have unbelievable potential that can be realized. The second is that the learner needs to be proactive about acquiring and consuming the content. I love the meal analogy! Set the table with appetizing and nourishing dishes, then eat!
But back to the MGO at the top of this post — the one who was not provided with the right resource. What happens when no one sets the table with appetizing and nourishing dishes? And this is where, as Dave Meier says, you need to step up — you need to realize that “learning is completely up to the learner…”
But how do you do that? Let me tell you what I did back when my counselor told me to reframe learning in my own mind and combine it with what the Veritus Group colleagues have uncovered in their process. It boils down to two steps as follows:
- Identify your learning needs. It could be something technical, like a computer software program. It could be about how to ask or deal with objections. It could be lack of information on programs or budgets. It could be about time management and focus. You know what it is if you take the time to analyze it. Stop and ask yourself: “What is going to cause my failure if I don’t learn about it or secure it?” The Berkeley Graduate school has found that fear of failure is one of the primary motivators for learning — fear of getting poor grades, fear of failing in a job and/or fear of failing in life. I know that was true for me. I did not like school, but my desire to succeed (read: fear of failure) pushed me to identify what I needed to learn and what information I needed to acquire. So, what is your learning need? Stop and make a list. What is blocking your success? You need to be in touch with that.
- Go find the table that has the nourishing and appetizing dishes, and eat from it. That table could be a formal training seminar, either online or off. It could be a book, or a series of writings on the topic. It could be a peer of yours who knows how to do the very thing you want to learn. It might be a person in another organization who has a reputation for knowing the material. Or it could be someone inside your organization who has the information you need. Regardless of what it is, YOU need to find the table. YOU do. Then, once you have found it, sit at it, and begin eating.
You see, it is easy to blame everyone outside of yourself for why you either don’t know or don’t have something. Easy. And, I agree that they usually deserve the blame. But placing the blame doesn’t move the needle for you, does it? So, if it makes you feel better, place the blame, and then start looking for that table.
There is something (books, seminars, formal training) or someone (inside the organization or out) out there who has a welcoming seat at a table for you.
There is one reason you will not do this, and it is the same reason I didn’t do it at first.
I was afraid to be curious and to ask questions. I was afraid to admit I didn’t know or that I needed help. And it took me some time to sort that out. Now I am over it, and I will ask everyone and anyone for help on any number of subjects. I have no problem saying “I don’t know.” Why? Because I am constantly on a search for the table, so I can eat appetizing and nourishing dishes and increase my knowledge and improve my skills.
You can do this too and increase your ability to become a learning MGO.
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.