You MUST watch Undercover Boss!

The other night, Richard and I sat and watched a couple of episodes of Undercover Boss.  Or, I should say, we blubbered our way through it.  Seriously, we witnessed some of the most emotional stories we’ve ever seen.

If you have never watched it, the premise is simple:  the CEO of a large corporation goes undercover and pretends to have just been hired as a worker at his or her own company.  Since it is a reality show with cameras filming all the interactions, other employees are told that the concept of the show will be about second chances for workers who lose their jobs and begin new positions.

What happens though is incredibly powerful.  For the first time, the CEO truly understands what it’s like to be an employee at his or her company…and comes into relationship with the people who work there.

So, you’re thinking, “How does this have anything to do with fundraising and major gifts?”  A ton.  The lessons the CEO learns along the way and the people he meets change him, as well as the company, forever.  But, these lessons learned are universal and will help you become better in your own position; in working with your colleagues and the donors you serve.

Here are some of those lessons that hit home for me:

1. “Headquarters” is often out of touch with what works on the front lines.  In all the episodes I have watched, inevitably, the policies and procedures that “corporate” thinks make sense often don’t when played out in real life.  In other words, what works in the boardroom doesn’t necessarily work when it comes to getting the job done.

How many policies and procedures does your organization have that actually get in the way of doing your work?  Are you in charge any of these?  If you are, it’s time to seriously review them and talk to the people who are doing the daily work to see if they actually help or hurt.

2. “Corporate” forgets who actually does the work…the employees!   In every episode we watched, it was amazing to see how the CEO was awakened to the insights and gifts of the company’s employees.  They had great ideas for procedures that the CEO had never thought of.  He realized that all day, while he was at corporate offices conducting focus groups, hiring efficiency consultants and meeting with executives trying to figure out how to make his or her business more profitable, all along it was the “lowly employee” who had the answers.

3. People who you work for, and with, are HUMAN.  The most powerful part of the show was the interaction the CEO had with his colleagues who do the day-to-day work.  For the first time the CEO heard the stories about the lives of his employees and it broke his heart.  And when the CEO’s heart breaks, things change.  Policies change.  Cost-cutting policies were overturned once it was understood how much the employees were hurt by them.   The CEO was inspired by how much his employees LOVED their jobs.  He understood that they needed and deserved a higher salary and, most of all, that each of his employees was a human being with his or her own story to tell.

4. Customers (read donors) are really at the center of the effort.  It was amazing to watch CEO’s see the passion in some of their employees for the customer.  Some of these employees went so far as to pay out of their own pocket to make sure customers were taken care of.  And, it was also interesting to see how some employees showed disdain for customers and the CEO was enlightened on how the culture of his or her company was not what they thought it was.

Have you lost sight of what your organization is about?  Do you realize donors actually pay your salary?

By this time in the show, Richard and I were bawling our eyes out.  If you can get through an episode without shedding a tear, you have lost touch with your emotions.  And, quite frankly, that is another great reason for you to watch this show.  It literally breaks you.  It puts you in touch with your own emotions and allows you to let go.

Do you manage someone, or a team of people?  Do you work directly with donors?  If you do, remember that these are real people with hurts, shame, suffering, hopes and dreams.  How do you get in touch with that?  How can you understand that THEY have answers to help you make your organization better?  Are you listening?

I know you have an organization to keep going. You have to have policies and regulations.  But remember, it’s the people…your donors and your colleagues, who make your organization possible.  THEY make it happen everyday.  Please don’t lose sight of that.



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 Mission, Non-Profits, Philanthopy, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to You MUST watch Undercover Boss!

  1. T says:

    I watch it regularly and admit I have cried several times. It’s very impactful. There are a lot of non-profit CEOs that should go undercover.

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