The Case Of The Employee That Doesn’t Fit

A sad situation I observe very frequently is one in which a major gift manager, whose primary skill set is major gifts, finds herself in a management position where the up-line managers, even the CEO, is critical of her “lack of management ability”.

And so, rather than celebrate the wonderful gift this person is contributing to the success of the major gift program, they are pecking away her, almost on a daily basis, making her feel small.

I’ve seen this happen even in the context of a vibrant, growing major gift program where the numbers are going up and the ROI is getting better.  I don’t understand it.

I remember one situation several years ago in which 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!”  And this CEO was adamant that something needed to change right now.

I listened for several minutes – seemed like an hour – as he ranted on about her clumsy handling of staff, how he couldn’t get her to do a budget right, how she was not in touch with the numbers, and on and on and on.

Then, there was a pause and he turned to me and asked me what I thought.

I started off by saying that good major gift people are hard to find – very hard to find.  Then I pointed out that this good lady had assembled some of the best MGO’s I had seen in the industry.  I told him that the numbers were really good – the growth was fantastic – the ratios were above industry standard and that, except for some minor items here and there, the major gift program was soaring.

It was time for me to pause and ask him a question.  He leaned forward.

I said, “So, Bob (not his real name), let me ask you a question.  Which of these two situations would you rather have?

  • Situation #1:  You have a manager who has her budget buttoned down tight, is in touch with all the numbers, is a whiz at excel spreadsheets, has finance and HR happy,  is loved by the CEO because “she really is in control of her stuff”,  BUT whose major gift program is failing,  caseload values are low,  the ratios of MGO expense to caseload value is below average and growth is flat?    Or…
  • Situation #2:  You have a successful, vibrant, growing, above average ratio major gift program in which donors are happy and retained, but you might have to manage a few things on budget and personnel?”

“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 my ownership of 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, creatives and sales people.

I related to him how often the product, creative and sales people, from the point of view of the management people, are viewed as just “out to lunch”.  It’s sad, and counter-productive, I said, that management people really think this , 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 about the journey I had to go on to really value sales and creative people (read, major gift 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.  And 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 the a good major gift manager he had in Ann and the wonderful, successful program she was leading.

Bob bought into my rationale 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 towards his good major gift manager.

I wish I could get to the other “Bobs” in our sector to do the same thing and stop abusing their major gift managers.  It would reduce so much angst and, instead, really honor people as they should be honored and respected.

Now here’s the other side of this situation – the way the major gift manager handles this pressure from up above.

Some major gift managers, caught in this situation, handle it with grace, professionalism and strength.  They talk back up-line, educating 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 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:

  1. 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 in a workplace 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.
  2. 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 add in the program, it helps him or her keep things in perspective.
  3. Plan to leave the organization if management cannot hear or adapt to your reality.  It is not a healthy place for you to be.
  4. 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 he or she wants.  Value all the different gifts and abilities of those around you.  That means that if you are a sales, product or creative type, you will 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.



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, Hiring, Major Gift Officers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Case Of The Employee That Doesn’t Fit

  1. Suzy Q says:

    I feel that this way of operating is so common that it has become common place for mid level employees to experience. I have never worked anywhere but a place that is like what you describe.

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