Major Gift Officer, You’re Taking on Too Much. Letting Go Will Help You Thrive.
A couple of years ago, I was helping to manage a major gift officer at a mid-sized nonprofit. Mary (not her real name) was a veteran fundraiser who was struggling with making her revenue goals when I met her. Her manager was concerned because she had been a high-performing fundraiser over her career, her donors really liked her, staff loved her, but over a period of the last two to three years, she wasn’t meeting her revenue goals.
So what was happening? I quickly identified the problem. Over time, Mary was taking on so many different tasks she lost focus on the one thing she was really responsible for: her caseload.
Because she was one of the longest tenured employees of the nonprofit, everyone came to her to get answers… for just about everything. Additionally, Mary kept taking on responsibilities that had nothing directly to do with her caseload of donors.
It was actually quite impressive how many of tasks she had taken on… except she was failing her at most important responsibility: to cultivate, steward and care for her 150 donors.
I sat with her early on, and I asked her what she was all doing? Here are some of the things she was taking on:
- Planning events
- Coordinating volunteers
- Attending all leadership meetings
- Attending planning meetings with the direct response team
- On the “new employee” welcome team
- Lead “clean up” days at her office
- Self-appointed “ambassador” to show guests around the organization
- On the “policies and procedures” committee of her nonprofit
- Coordinated the employee-of-the-month voting and award ceremony
And there was even more. I mean the fact that she had any time for her caseload was nothing short of miraculous. And none of these responsibilities were in her job description. She had, over time, just started acquiring them because it made her feel in her words “more important and needed.”
But, in her quest to feel that way, she had lost her way with her real job. Now, Mary’s story may seem extreme, but Richard and I find some version of this in many MGOs who are struggling with their caseloads.
They have taken so many responsibilities or have been given those responsibilities by unwise managers, outside their core work, and they lose their way. And the result is that their major donors are not cared for properly.
What happened with Mary is that we took away any responsibility or task that had nothing to do with her caseload directly. We created a structure for her portfolio, and then we helped her to only focus on her donors. Within six months, she was back on track. And while it was emotionally difficult for Mary to let go of all those responsibilities, her self-worth and emotional well-being skyrocketed because she was having so much success with her caseload.
Looking back on it, had Mary been appreciated for her good work earlier in her career by her manager and executive director, she may have never taken on all those tasks and responsibilities in the first place because she would have felt “important and needed” already.
So as a major gift fundraiser, I urge you to take stock of all that you do right now outside of working with your donors. All of those things are taking you away from knowing the passion and interests of your donors that will help you create dynamic offers and inspire them to give.
Figure out a way to unload those tasks and responsibilities. It’s a weight right now that you cannot afford to carry.
Cultivating, stewarding and caring for your donors are huge responsibilities. In many ways, it’s almost more than full time. Getting rid of anything that doesn’t allow you focus on your portfolio will free you up and allow you to succeed.
You’re a major gift fundraiser; a job I think is one the greatest one can have. Do that.
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.