Managing was a Bad Choice

Do any of you remember the Will Ferrell movie “Anchorman—The Legend of Ron Burgundy?”  I thought it was hilarious.  There is a scene where it’s extremely hot outside and Ron takes a tall, cold glass of MILK and chugs it down.

Then he exclaims, “Milk was a bad choice!”

I often feel like I’m watching Ron Burgundy when I run into former major gift officers who have now been “promoted” to Major Gift Directors with the job of managing a team of MGO’s.

I’m not sure why non-profits continue to make this mistake, but more often than not… this is a bad choice!

Why?  I’ll tell you.

Great managers are people who get personal satisfaction by getting results through the efforts of others.  Great major gift officers get excited and motivated by getting results through their own efforts.  Now, one is not better than the other, it’s just how we are hard-wired that makes us better at one or the other.

In my experience, it’s extremely rare to witness a top-notch major gift officer succeed at managing.  Not impossible though.  I have seen it happen with some of our clients, but again, it’s RARE!!

I don’t know what you think, but there is something weird in the way non-profit organizations are structured.  For some reason a manager has more clout and makes more money than a great major gift officer.

This is insane!

I don’t think the for-profit world has all the answers for the non-profit world, but in this case they get it right.  In the for-profit world, great sales people make more money than the sales manager.  In fact, in many cases a LOT more.  Why?  Because great sales people drive business and they are hard to find.

Well, the same is true with a major gift officer.  Great ones are hard to find and they drive revenue.  If they do great work, you should pay them well.  But, in most non-profit structures, the only way to get more pay and influence is to become a manager!

So, you know what I see all the time?  A bunch of former great MGO’s who are miserable and actually quite bad as the Director of Major Gifts.

Did I say they were miserable?

I feel for these folks.  They used to be so happy, out there talking to donors, being creative and coming up with inspiring ways to help donors give away their money…life was so good.

Now, they’re stuck in an office, going to meetings all day looking at other MGO caseloads and plans…and failing.

And, it’s not because these good people are failures. It’s because they have been put in a position that doesn’t celebrate their strengths.  I mean, these were the folks who needed to be managed and now they are managing??…That’s a total disaster waiting to happen.

So, can we please stop doing this?

Here is what you can do:

  1. Re-structure your non-profit to reward MGO’s.  If they are great, pay them well and celebrate their great work.
  2. Understand that almost all great MGO’s need solid structure and management.  Therefore, find people to manage them that get a kick out of achieving goals through the efforts of others….people who love to develop other people.  There are many management tools out there to determine who these people are.
  3. If your non-profit has this current problem that I’ve outlined, hire an outside consultant to help you right the ship.  I’m not saying this for my benefit.  Really, really!  I’m saying this because prophets are not welcome in their own land.  It usually takes an outsider to tell the executive team and board they are messed up and need to change.  Consultants who know their stuff have the ability to make organizational change and get results.
  4. Develop a culture in your non-profit that understands the dynamic of celebrating each others’ gifts and empowers people to feel connected to the organization within that gift.  This would eliminate the need to move people out of their areas of strength just so they can make more money or have more influence in the organization.

Soon, I’ll talk about the importance of a great manager and why they are critical to the overall success of a major gift program.  So, don’t go thinking I’m down on managers.  I love great mangers…but we have to change our thinking on what to do with great MGO’s…and making them directors….is most likely a bad choice!


About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Managing was a Bad Choice

  1. Laurel Hardgrove says:

    Hi Jeff: Brilliant insights! I agree wholeheartedly …. we do need to look deep within ourselves to really know what motivates us.

    Also loved your “Ten Reasons Why Most Major Gift Programs Suck!” series …. still working through all the content–which is really great! Keep these awesome insights coming …. you’re helping the profession.


  2. Sandra says:

    Excellent insight. Successful Major Gift Officers are great at creating relationships and strategizing how to make the best connection for the donor and for the organization. As a manager–sitting in meetings and trying to make sure everyone on the team is happy and on task–is not their best strength. Usually, Major Gifts Officers are forward thinking and fast paced–most organizations are a bit beind and move at a slower pace. So the new position of manager brings inherent conflict with the rest of the organization…not the best fit for either party.

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