If a Major Gift Officer Changes Jobs… and Takes Donors With Them
Back when I owned a direct marketing agency, I remember a series of interviews we organized for a high-level position in our organization. We searched, and there were some really talented people coming to Seattle to talk to us about the position we had open.
One person came into my office for his interview with a 10-inch stack of folders and three ring binders. “That’s interesting,” I thought. Perhaps he wanted to share his work with me. It wasn’t that at all. The stack of folders was the latest strategic plans and budgets of our competitor, his current employer.
I remember him saying the following: “Richard, I thought you would be interested in seeing this from [AGENCY NAME]. These are its latest plans and financials.” I was interested. Very interested because we were trying to figure out how to deal with them in the marketplace.
But two things quickly happened in my head: First, I thought about the ethics of the whole thing, and second, I immediately made a judgment about the ethics and character of this potential employee.
So I said: “Sam (not his real name), I have to admit I would love to look at those documents. But I can’t, and it would not be right. And I am surprised that you think it is right. And for that reason we are not going to continue with this interview or consider you for employment. We value honesty and integrity in our organization, and this is just not right. We will cover your expenses as promised.” And that was it.
I have run into many situations like this in my career. And in major gifts issues of integrity and honesty are usually related to donors or what major gifts officers (MGOs) are presenting to donors.
On the subject of donors, there are situations where MGOs change jobs and take the donor list with them. I think we all know this is not appropriate or honest. But it does happen, and here is what you should do to prevent it:
- If you are a MGO, do not under any circumstances rationalize things to the point where you allow yourself to do this. It is stealing, pure and simple. Decide in advance, while things are going well in your job, that if you leave you will not be contacting any of your donors. And if they contact you, you need to politely but firmly pass them on to your successor. Do not cross this line.
- If you are a MGO and the donor at your new organization is the same donor from your old organization, be very careful to protect and manage the values on both sides. You are ethically obligated not to try to influence the donor from your old place of employment to stop giving there. Instead, talk up both organizations, leaving the donor in control of the giving decision.
- If you are a manager of MGOs, put non-disclosure language or agreements in place either in the job description or in a separate document. This is done all the time in business. I don’t know why we don’t do it in the nonprofit sector. I would have a separate non-disclosure agreement with each MGO that, right at the beginning of the relationship, sets up the boundaries and protects your donor assets. This is not a matter of trust. It is good business. And your non-disclosure agreement should anticipate the situation I described above.
- If you are a manager of MGOs, do not pressure your MGO to bring donors from the organization he or she just left. It is not right and should not be done. If you do this, you are forcing your MGO across an ethical line.
Donor assets are like pure gold for an organization. If you were to place a value on each one, just based on the cost to acquire and cultivate them, the resulting number would shock you. That is why donor lists and donor relationships, which belong to the organization, need to stay in the organization’s control.
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.