Why Major Gift Officers Fail
The reasons for major gift officer (MGO) failure, other than the person not having the skills to do the job, are pretty basic:
- You think it’s just a job.
- You don't really support the cause.
- You aren't held accountable.
- You are lazy.
- You don’t like people.
- You fear failure.
- You are afraid to ask.
- You aren't following up.
Now, that’s a rather daunting list. And I suppose it could be longer with all kinds of nasty words that could drag you into depression when you read it.
What I find interesting about this list is that MGOs can simply decide to not let any one of these points be a reason for their failures. They can, literally, flick switches in their minds and make the decision to head in another direction if they want.
Think about this. Every morning when you get out of bed, you likely are aware of how you feel and what you are thinking. If not, just stop and let yourself think and feel.
For instance, this morning I woke up angry about my Internet service repair people putting me off for the fifth day in a row while my home sits in online darkness. I sat on the edge of my bed stewing. My head even hurt—that’s how much I had worked myself up.
Then, following the advice I am about to give in this post, I said to myself: “Richard, get ahold of yourself! Are you really gonna start your day this way and be all tight, angry and frustrated? You can’t control the situation, so let it go. And, instead, look at all the wonderful things that are going to happen today!” I flicked the switch.
Now, I am drinking my coffee, talking to you and feeling better.
Take a look at that list for a second. Pick out the two or three things that may apply to you. If there is one missing, add it to your list. Now, go through this exercise. Reframe the attitude you are holding into something positive and constructive. So, taking the list I made earlier, here is how I suggest you handle each of those points:
- You think it’s just a job. You really don’t have to think about your job this way. Think about it as helping donors find fulfillment for their passions and interests. When you can actually help other people realize their potential, it can bring you joy. When I start going down the mental track of feeling that my work is just a job, I step back and think about what I am really doing. Sure, in some respects, the work you do is about getting a paycheck, but, honestly, that’s just the small part of it. And if you are missing the real part, you need to “flick the switch” and reframe it. You can do it.
- You don't really support the cause. Hmm, you really don’t? Or have you not thought seriously about it? Stop for a minute and look at what your organization is doing—the end result. Does that end result bring you satisfaction and joy? Or are you focused on the process of doing the work, and is that the part that is messing with your mind? Think carefully about this. It could be true that the cause just isn’t something you support, and that is OK. But then, do something about it. Move on. But if it’s just a thing of your mind and attitude, flick the switch.
- You aren't held accountable. There is something so freeing about accountability. Run toward it. Be under its power. It will help you focus and become a better and more productive person. Look at why you do not like accountability. It has to do with your free spirit, which is good. But that free spirit, which at times finds it difficult to take counsel and direction, actually is hurting you. Don’t let that happen. Flick the switch.
- You are lazy. If it’s hard to get motivated to do your work, explore why that is. This is a thing of the mind, in my opinion. I feel lazy at times. And it forces me to examine my attitude and thoughts about the work that I am lazy about. Then I am faced with a decision. Am I going to stay in this mode right now or am I going to flick the switch and get moving? I’ve discovered that I do have the power to change how I think and feel about things.
- You don’t like people. You seriously don’t like people? Or is it you don’t like being around certain kinds of people? Think about this: You are an MGO, and your job is to be with donors. For the most part these are all good people. Yes, they have their personalities that sometimes are difficult to be around, but, truthfully, you and I, at times, are probably difficult to be around as well. When I have these thoughts, I need to flick the switch, and value and respect others, plus seek to fulfill their interests through my work. I have learned that if I stay in my silo mode with others, I will suffer. Whereas if I flick the switch and allow myself to enjoy the beauty in everyone around me, I actually flourish.
- You fear failure. This is a big one. Fear is such a big part of my life. I am now able to not let it control me. My wife and Jeff help me with this one a lot, as do other friends. Fear can capture me and keep me a prisoner if I let it. I have to, as an act of my will, flick the switch and make myself see that what I fear is actually not there—it is ghost I have conjured up to protect myself. Examine your fears. Fear of being rejected by that donor. Fear of not reaching goals. Fear of performing less than your colleague. You need to flick the switch on all of these fears and reframe them. You can do it.
- You are afraid to ask. Well, this one is like No. 6. It is about rejection. I can relate. Rejection used to get to me in a big way until I realized that a “no” was a doorway or passage to a “yes.” I have written about this in earlier blogs. You know as well as I do that you can’t know where a donor stands unless you ask. So a critical part of knowing is asking. And a real part of asking is getting a “no.” And once you have that “no,” you now have a clearer idea of what to do next. Flick the switch and learn to embrace “no” versus fear it. The “no” is wisdom and light coming your way, not the negative thing you think it is.
- You aren't following up. There is a reason you have not followed up with your good donor. It might be a belief that our work is done (i.e. you got the money and now you can relax.) Or, it could be that other things have grabbed your attention. But you do know that the fastest way to lose a good donor is not to tell him or her that the gift made a difference. You know that. Plus, you know that it is respectful to communicate with a donor frequently and tell the donor what is going on. You know that. And you value it. I know you do. So, flick a switch, and go to the other side of this one and make yourself value and respect your donor by following up. You can do it.
Thomas Edison said: “I failed my way to success.” I love this statement and the thought behind it. It tells us an essential truth. Failure is the path toward success. Embrace this reality, and look carefully at the attitudes you have that are governing your behavior and causing failure in your job. Identify each one, then flick the switch and go another direction.
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.