The Case of the Major Gifts Fundraising Employee Who Didn’t Fit
A sad situation I observe very frequently is a major gifts manager whose primary skill set is major gifts but finds him- or herself in a management position where the up-line managers, even the CEO, are critical of his or her "lack of management ability."
Rather than celebrate the wonderful gift this person contributes to the success of the major gifts program, the manager or leader pecks away at this major gifts manager, almost on a daily basis, making him or her feel small rather than covering the management areas that slip a little under the person's care.
I remember one situation several years ago where the top leader called me into his office for a private conference on "what are we going to do with Ann (not her real name)? She just cannot manage!" This CEO was adamant that something needed to change right now. He was ready to toss out the good and loyal employee and just be done with it.
I listened for several minutes — seemed like an hour — as he ranted on about her clumsy handling of staff, how he can't get her to do a budget right, how she is not in touch with the numbers, and on and on and on.
Then there was a pause, and he turned to me and asked what I thought.
I started off by saying that good major gifts people are hard to find — very hard to find. Then I pointed out that this good lady had assembled some of the best major gifts officers (MGOs) I had seen in the industry. I told him that the numbers could be really good — the growth could be fantastic — and the ratios could be above industry standard if we could give this good lady some management support.
I did agree with him that some of the management stuff had slipped a little and that all the potential had not been realized as it should. I then decided to ask him a question.
I said: "So, Bob, let me ask you a question. Which of these two situations would you rather have?"
- Situation 1: A manager who has your budget buttoned down tight, is in touch with all the numbers, who is a whiz at excel spreadsheets, who has finance and HR happy, who is loved by the CEO because "she really is in control of her stuff," BUT whose major gifts program is failing, where the caseload values are low, the ratios of MGO expense to caseload value is below average and growth is flat? Or …
- Situation 2: A really good major gifts person who, with management help, can make the program successful, vibrant, growing and above average, where donors are happy and retained?
"Well," he said. "It's not just a few things I have to manage ..." And he listed a few more items he found irritating that he had to manage because Ann wasn't.
Then I told him a story about myself. I told him I like things in order, just like he does. I am a manager. And chaos, of any sort, used to drive me nuts. It still does, if I don't watch myself. So, I told him, I could relate to what he and managers and CEOs like him are thinking and feeling.
I told him about the early years of owning a major direct response agency in the United States and Europe and how I had to learn that a good agency (read a good organization of any kind) is made up of good management folks, product people, creative people and salespeople.
I told him that many times the product, creative and sales people, from the point of view of the management people, are just viewed as "out to lunch." It's sad and counter-productive, I said, that management people really think this way because this kind of attitude works its way out into the hearts of these good people, makes them small and less valued and therefore less productive.
I told him the journey I had to go on to really value sales and creative people (read major gifts people) the way I valued the finance, business and HR folks. I also explained how, as I did this, it raised the value of these good people up and produced a better result for the company and for them. Then I told him that my added work, to cover what was "missing," was very small in comparison to the awesome results we were getting.
Then I kindly said that he needed to man up and be thankful for such a good major gifts manager he had in Ann and to take the step of providing the management support she needs to maximize the talent that was right in front of him.
Bob bought in to my rationale and provided the support, and now, every time we get together, we go through the following ritual: I sit patiently while he rants about this same material, I remind him of the points that are true and he relaxes. It's a great, cathartic exercise, which works for him and, practically, helps him act in the right way toward his good major gifts manager.
And the major gifts program? It's doing really well.
I wish I could get to the other "Bob's" in our sector to do the same thing so they will stop abusing their major gifts people. It would get rid of so much angst and really honor people as they should be honored and respected.
Now, here's the other side of this situation — how the major gifts manager handles this pressure from up above.
Some major gifts managers caught in this situation handle it with grace, professionalism and strength. They educate their managers toward the kind of thinking I have written about above. It takes a lot of courage to do this. I applaud and lift them up!
But, then, there are those managers who, because they are afraid, simply (a) try harder to be the manager they are expected to be (rather than get the help they need) and then (b) turn around and treat their employees with the same disrespect they themselves are experiencing. It is truly an amazing thing. The abused becomes the abuser.
So, what should you do if you find yourself in this situation? Here are a few suggestions:
- First of all, accept yourself for the wonderful and gifted professional you are! This is really important. Do you really want to just hold down a job for the money where you are disrespected every day and you become smaller and smaller? I don't think so. Do not trade money, power or position for a decaying soul.
- Try to talk about this up-line with your manager and the manager of your manager. I find that if you can keep educating your manager as to your value in the program, it helps him or her keep things in perspective.
- Seek and accept help in getting management support so you can focus on the talent contribution you can make.
- Plan to leave the organization if management cannot hear or adapt to your reality. It is not a healthy place for you to be.
- Purpose to value others who are different from you in the organization. In other words, don't be like the person who is disrespecting you because you are not delivering what that person wants. Value all the different gifts and abilities of those around you. That means that if you are a sales, product or creative type, then you have to work harder at valuing those management, finance and HR people.
It takes so many different types of people to make an organization work. Good leaders understand this, and that's why they lead successful and thriving organizations. Bad leaders don't, and that is why you must get away from them.
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.