How to Transition Out of Your Fundraising Role
Most major gifts officers like you will leave their current nonprofit organization sometime in the next several years to work for someone else. On average, fundraisers are moving from one nonprofit to another every two to three years.
I have written about this fact many times, and it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be a huge change anytime soon. This reality means that your major donors will have a disruption in their relationship with your nonprofit when you leave to take another position somewhere else.
This disruption can either be a good transition or a disaster, depending on how you plan for it. If you truly love what you do, you believe in your organization’s mission and care for your donors. Then you’ll follow my advice on transitioning your caseload to another major gifts officer.
1. Understand That Your Donors Are Not ‘Your’ Donors
I have witnessed some very unethical practices with major gifts officers crossing the line between getting to know your donors and becoming friends with your donors, especially when the major gifts officer wants to work for another organization.
I’ve seen major gifts officers take donors with them to another organization. This is not acceptable unless that donor was already a donor to that new organization. So if you’re leaving your current position, you cannot take your caseload donors with you.
2. You Are the Key to a Smooth and Honorable Transition
I know how you’re feeling. You’re pumped about your new position, and your current job feels old and stale. You just want to get out of there now. But come back to reality and understand that you’re a professional with a long career ahead of you.
One of the best things you can do as a major gifts officer is to create an honoring transition for your donors and the organization you’re leaving. An honoring transition means writing a letter to each of your donors, telling them you love the mission, but you are moving on to a new opportunity. Tell them you’ve enjoyed the relationship you have with them and they’ll be in good hands. Then gracefully introduce the new major gifts officer or inform them of whatever transition the organization plans. This will give the donor comfort, and it honors the donor in the process.
3. Update All Information
This is where nightmares are created for the person who takes your position unless you hunker down and do your job. Before you leave, it’s your responsibility to make sure all of the donor files are up to date in your database.
I have witnessed the aftermath of a major gifts officer leaving their donor records in a mess. It’s so dishonoring to the major gifts officer coming in, and people will not think well of you. Believe me. However, if you do leave with your donor records up to date and with good information, you’ll be lauded up and down the halls of your former employer.
4. Tell the Stories
It’s great to have donor records up to date, but it’s even better if you’re able to sit down with the major gifts officer taking your place, if possible, or your manager. Then tell a story about each donor one by one. This is important, as you’ll be passing on information that doesn’t always get reflected well in the notes section of your donor database. These stories will be invaluable to the person who is taking over for you, and more importantly, your donors will benefit from them because it gives that new major gifts officer a leg up on understanding who each donor really is.
Moving on to another organization is just a reality for most major gifts officers. That transition from one organization to another can be a good one, or not so good. You hold that key.
Look at it like this: How would you like to come into a new organization as a major gifts officer? Would you like all the donor records updated? Would you like to know the stories of the donors you’ll be creating relationships with? Would you want those donors to know that you’re coming on board with context about their giving history? Yes, yes and more yes.
So do the same for the person taking your place. You’ll honor them, your donors and the organization you’re leaving.
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.