You’ve become an exceptional major gift fundraiser and now you’ve been promoted to manage a team of fundraisers. Congratulations – that’s great! But it generates a whole new set of responsibilities. How do you successfully lead a team while managing your own portfolio? And how do you find that delicate balance of leading the team, passing on your knowledge and creating more exceptional fundraisers?
These tips will get you started:
Your direct reports must be your first priority. Every day you should be thinking of what they may need to be successful. Keeping track of your team’s progress in vital. I use my iPhone Notes app. It allows me to create a note document for each person on my team with information about the person, their immediate needs and any upcoming gifts they are trying to close. It’s a great tool to keep me in the know. I can scroll through the list and check-in as needed. Determine what will work best for you.
Always Be Accessible
A great working relationship between a manager and a direct report is founded on trust and communication. You want your team to feel confident to approach you with any questions – big or small. Always make yourself available. If an MGO needs to discuss the strategy on a prospect, meet or call them that day if you can. These conversations will hopefully help move the needle to closing a gift. And, your consistent follow-up will show your team that you are invested in their success.
Keep Your Team Focused
Often times, MGOs spend too much time engaging multiple prospects or gifts of smaller amounts rather than directing their attention to their top prospects that have the best chance of closing. Work smarter, not harder! As an experienced fundraiser, you may need to help re-direct their focus toward these prospects. Check out this spreadsheet. It’s a great tool to organize solicitation prospects by gift amount and where they are in the timeline of the ask process. Have your direct reports bring this document to every 1:1 meeting to review the progress.
As a manager, you should always find ways to motivate your team to do more. Challenge your team using phrases like, “Maybe we should make this ask sooner” or “Could we ask for more money than this?” Sometimes a little push may be needed. There is a great quote from Danny Meyer’s classic book “Setting the Table” where he advises to apply “Constant Gentle Pressure.” He encourages managers to set high standards, promise to correct employees in a kind and professional manner if they don’t meet those standards, but let them know that those standards are important and must be maintained. Get setting your table.
Onboarding is Key
You only get one opportunity to onboard a major gift fundraiser, so make sure you take the time to do it right. Reinforce your team values, bring them on visits, provide proper training and resources, and whatever else is important to reaching individual and team goals. Be sure company protocols and procedures are clearly defined so you will spend less time on corrections. What about the desired team culture? Your leadership and enthusiasm will help to define a positive experience. By setting the course from the beginning, you will ensure success. This is time well invested; procuring positive results in the long run.
No matter your skill level as a fundraiser, you should immerse yourself to learn all you can about major gift fundraising. Isn’t that why you’re reading this article? We can learn from others – whether it be an individual’s success story, a great article or blog to share or any one of the million other resources out there. Ask your employees what skills they need to develop and provide the necessary roadmap to make it happen. When a fundraiser books a major gift, encourage them to tell the start to finish story of the gift including all key strategies that helped with the close. The whole team benefits that way and it builds camaraderie. Finally, don’t be afraid to share your own stumbles along the way. It’s easy to celebrate the success stories, but we often learn the most from our missteps.
Lead. Educate. Motivate. You’ve got the tools.