How to Keep a Great MGO
I was recently a guest panelist for a fundraising conference in Washington, D.C. The topic was how to hire and retain great major gift officers (MGOs).
It’s a great subject. The room was packed, and it was the last session on a gorgeous afternoon, so you know it was important to people.
One of the first questions that the moderator asked me was, "What is the single biggest reason an MGO leaves a position for another one?"
My answer: Bad management and leadership.
In my research for the conference session, I read an article by Drew Lindsay in The Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled, "Case Study: Keeping Fundraising Poachers at Bay."
He interviewed Jeanne Jachim, president of the Virginia Mason Foundation, who has an unprecedented track record of keeping great MGOs. She has four of them that have been with her for more than 10 years each!
Now that’s something when you consider the national average is between two and two-and-a-half years.
So, I’m going to share with you the four things she does to keep her good people (and actually weed out the bad on her team):
- Autonomy. The Virginia Mason MGOs work within a structure, but they have the ability to work the hours they want to meet the donors' needs. They are not micromanaged, but given freedom to work on their own. This one is a very important point. I see too many managers who need to see their MGOs clock in and out of the office everyday. MGOs need freedom.
- Access and Stature. All MGOs at Virginia Mason have access to the CEO and chief medical officer. This means the MGOs can set up meetings directly with donors and the CEO or chief medical officer without having to wade through bureaucracy to make things happen. Wow, this is good. I cannot tell you how many MGOs have complained to Richard and me about this very issue. We know if you treat MGOs as professionals, they will act that way.
- Applause. Yes, yes and more yes! MGOs need to be recognized when they bring in big gifts or make their annual revenue goals or even monthly goals. And, that goes for the team that supports them. Jachim is quoted as saying, "We want to make it very clear that other people know that they’re doing good work." Gosh, I love her management!
- Team Environment. Every week she brings her team in to have them share with the entire group what is happening with their donors. The MGOs ask for help with problem donors or situations they can’t figure out. The group even votes on the right approach. She said that not everyone likes this approach and if they don’t, they don’t last. So, if you are not a team player you don’t work for Virginia Mason Foundation. Great, I love that.
These are four solid ways to keep the good MGOs you have and keep them from jumping ship.
At end of the conference session, the audience was asked about how many times a month they get calls from recruiters asking if they would like to consider another position. Half of the audience gets weekly calls!
The competition for great MGOs is high, so I really advise you to take these four ideas for creating an awesome environment for your team and make sure you implement them. You can’t afford not to.
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.