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All Hands On Deck: Ten Commandments For Development Officer Supervisors

One day early in my career I was in my office when there was a knock on the door and one of my colleagues popped her head in. "Do you have a minute?" she asked me. Of course.

She proceeded to tell me the story of the unexpected and vicious tongue lashing that she had just gotten from our supervisor. It was so severe that she was simply broken. While the door to his office was closed during the meeting, the people who worked nearby all heard exactly what was being said as did all of the people in the waiting room. What was the offense? He had asked her to create a special marketing theme to overlay on a fundraising initiative and was not happy with the results. He couldn't tell her what he didn't like, just that he didn't like it. He threatened her job. Then he insulted her intelligence. He disrespected her whole being that day. It was a shattering loss of dignity.

When such an incident occurs in the office, it has repercussions throughout the team.

Hearing this, I was distracted for the rest of the day. There was a trail of people who came in to discuss what happened, fearful and wondering about their own work and jobs. In some manner each person had experienced something like this at some time in their tenure there. It is a bit like having post-traumatic stress syndrome. Everyone was disquieted and a great deal of productive time was lost. My colleague didn't sleep that night and wondered whether or not she should or might have to look for another job.

Because productivity reigns supreme in a development office, every day needs to be "all hands on deck." Team play has to be the major focus.

A simple solution? The supervisor could have sat back, absorbed what the employee presented and thought about what he liked or what he didn't like. He could have listened carefully with the promise to come back to her later in the day or the next day and discuss this approach when he had had time to think about it and could articulate what he would like to see in the next iteration.

Such encounters are disruptive and hurtful to the team. Even a large office is very small when this kind of behavior erupts. Fundraising is a very difficult job and doing it every day successfully is a major challenge for even the most solid individuals. Supervisors of development officers have a special responsibility to support and bolster their efforts.

For just this reason I put together the Ten Commandments for Successful Development Officer Supervisors:

I. Thou shall treat others as you would like to be treated. While this seems pretty basic, unfortunately, we all need to be reminded about it. Every day in every way you should respect your employees and colleagues.

II. Thou shall work hard every day and set an example for the team. If fundraising is difficult, setting an example is basic to success. Model good fundraising is not enough to simply police the staff but display all the behaviors and attitudes you expect of employees. Get in on the fundraising action and ensure that with your efforts you practice empathy, understanding and compassion with your employees. Teach them what you learned.

III. Thou shall share information and communicate it effectively to each member of the team as well as other teams. Fundraising is all about communication. Sharing information so that each of the development officers can be informed and knowledgeable is basic to success. There is no room for the supervisor who puts his/her arms around a new report or a new initiative or process and declares "mine!" Have enough confidence in yourself to share the information and discuss why it is important, how it will impact development officers' work. Be sure that your own work has clarity and your processes can withstand your own supervisor's focus.

IV. Thou shall have humility. Successful development officer supervisors don't let their pride, their title, their authority get in the way. They influence by inspiring rather than demanding. They encourage, cajole, request...they remain helpful even in the face of frustration. They do not insult or demean a major gifts officer.

V. Thou shall bring out the best in your team and build a vision for the future. Great supervisors acknowledge that everyone has round and flat sides. Every team has strengths and weaknesses. A supervisor needs to know how to play to the strengths of the team and back-fill for the weaknesses. Encouraging every employee to do the best they can is essential. Looking for the positive in each is absolutely necessary. Helping them to envision their success, the success of the team, and that of the organization is critical. It's all about dreaming great dreams--then making them come true.

VI. Thou shall acknowledge the members of your team. A solid supervisor ensures that he/she articulates the value of each member, giving each the credit due as a result of his/her achievements. Privately and publicly. When someone comments on a new contribution or a job well done, the supervisor gives credit to the officer. A good supervisor thanks employees for their work and credits them with the progress they are making, the impact they are having...all the while with an eye on the goal and where each needs to be. A good supervisor celebrates each successful step towards securing a gift and a pledge.

VII. Thou shall build team capability as well as a platform for success. A good supervisor works not only to bring out the best in each team member, but to carefully provide an opportunity for each to advance their work and their careers. This is so important. He/she encourages each to be an entrepreneur. If everyone grows smarter and happier as a team, the best is yet to come to the department. Each will generate ideas and take responsibility for getting to success. Those capabilities multiply over time and inspire further achievements and everyone grows.

VIII. Thou shall build autonomy. As each team member develops his/her talents and achieves goals, they need to have space to do so. Micromanaging is reserved only for rare situations. Each team member is responsible for themselves and should be given the respect and independence with their own ideas and strategies. And if they make mistakes? The only mistake in fundraising is not reaching the goal. Other mistakes always end up creating a better understanding and learning for the future.

IX. Thou shall be available for questions and discussions. Sound basic? Yes, it is...a good supervisor can lead employees to the best answers for the questions that they have. They can coach them. Whether the question is about identifying prospects for a challenging project or wondering what to do when a prospect has not returned a phone call (such as, it's been three days, should I try again?), a supervisor should be willing and able to discuss anything.

X. Thou shall encourage all employees to act with urgency. A good supervisor knows that reaching the goal is certainly important, but a really great supervisor helps the team to reach beyond the goal. Helps the team to always break through the expected and go higher. They respect the fact that this helps the organization and each employee in the team to do the best they can. It's about the mission.

Again, we were not put on this earth just to fit in, we were put on this earth in a once in a lifetime journey to make a real difference. Work with determination, perseverance and humor. People are counting on you.


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