There comes a point in every nonprofit’s experience where your team realizes that there is someone missing: a major gift officer. A major gift officer is the teammate that takes charge on all fundraising assignments related to cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding major givers.
The definition of a major giver varies from nonprofit to nonprofit depending on the fundraising capacity of that organization, but their importance remains the same. A major giver is someone who has the capacity and willingness to give a game-changing gift to a nonprofit organization.
Clearly, a major gift officer is going to be an important character in the narrative of your nonprofit. So it’s important that you choose someone who is completely qualified!
The right MGO will look different for every organization, but all effective major gift officers will share some of the same characteristics. We’ve compiled this list of the 8 most important features to find in a major gift officer. Those traits are:
- Communication skills.
- Fundraising experience.
- Emotional intelligence.
If you can find all or most of these traits in a potential major gift officer, you know you’re on the right track. Let’s break down these traits and see why they’re so important.
1. Communication skills.
This trait is the first on our list because it’s absolutely crucial to the success of your MGO. Your officer is going to have to be able convey information effectively and efficiently through all sorts of communication avenues, so this should be one of the first skills that you look for.
Your MGO will have to communicate in the following ways, including, at the very least:
- Presenting an official ask to potential major givers.
- Setting up meetings and extending invitations to prospects.
- Presenting status updates and predictions to nonprofit executives.
A potential MGO should be able to write clearly and effectively in a variety of tones. They should be able to gauge levels of familiarity and formality in different situations and adjust their presentation accordingly.
When searching for an MGO, consider asking for some sort of writing sample to get an idea of their own personal style. During the interview process, you might get a better sense of their capabilities if you set them up with an assignment to read, process, and present information on a topic. For example, ask your interviewee to craft a heartfelt thank-you letter based on a supporter profile.
Some great interview questions related to communication skills would be:
- Do you consider yourself an avid reader or writer?
- Explain our mission in your own words.
- What elements our mission would you emphasize to someone in an annual fund appeal?
- Give us an elevator pitch about yourself.
You’ll be able to tell from these questions how skilled they are at consolidating chunks of information into the most important segments on the fly, as well as get a sense of where their interests are.
2. Fundraising experience.
Fundraising experience is a crucial trait of anyone that your nonprofit hires into a high-stress, high-stakes position. While not having experience is fine for entry-level positions, it’s important that your major gift officer understands the pressure of working on a fundraising campaign.
Whether or not your potential MGO has worked as a major gift officer before, they should at least have worked with a nonprofit on some sort of fundraising campaign before.
Some questions that you could ask your prospect to gauge their level of fundraising experience and comfort in the nonprofit sector are:
- What are your favorite stewardship techniques? Why do you find them useful?
- What was your biggest success during a fundraising campaign at a previous position?
- Have you ever failed during a fundraising campaign? How did you adapt or recover?
- What is your favorite part of a fundraising campaign?
- Have you ever hired a capital campaign consultant, and how did you make that decision?
If your MGO has previous fundraising experience, they won’t become flustered or upset when something goes wrong. They know that unpredictability is the name of the game, and that nothing is ever going to go perfectly as planned.
They’ll also be able to bring their own unique experiences to your nonprofit’s institutional knowledge, which will benefit the fundraising techniques of everyone involved.
Adaptability is a key feature for anyone in fundraising, but it’s especially important for major gift officers. Major gift officers are responsible for securing some of the largest gifts for a nonprofit, so they must be able to think on their feet and react to any situation.
Nonprofit statistics indicate that the philanthropic world is changing rapidly, so your major gift officer has to be able to adapt to the changing times as well as the needs of the individual prospect.
In addition to being adaptable in their own role, they have to adapt to the needs of your nonprofit organization. Everyone in a nonprofit, especially the smaller ones, wears multiple hats. Your major gift officer should be able to flow between roles as necessary in order to keep everything running smoothly.
Some ways to gauge flexibility and adaptability in someone are to:
- Ask them hypotheticals about difficult situations, and test their problem-solving skills.
- Ask them to describe a time where they had to adapt to a difficult situation.
- Include a team member in the interview and ask them to act out a solicitation gone wrong.
Being able to adapt and overcome any obstacles in a situation is a strong trait for your major gift officer.
4. Tech savviness.
When your nonprofit is searching for the right major gift officer to join your team, you have to consider how they’ll fit into not only your team’s culture, but also into the processes already in place at your organization.
Every nonprofit has a unique software system. Payment processing, online fundraising, and supporter data management are all just pieces of the nonprofit software puzzle. When you’re choosing your nonprofit’s next MGO, ask them the following questions during the interview:
- What is your favorite CRM platform and why?
- What nonprofit software are you most familiar with?
- How proficient are you at learning to use new software?
Not everyone has the functional intelligence necessary to learn how to use new software quickly and efficiently. But given how much of the nonprofit sphere relies on software, your MGO has to be able to adapt and learn in any system.
This will also be crucial if you systematically track your major giver pipeline in your software. If your major gift officer can’t use the fundraising software you already have, they might not be the right fit for your organization.
It’s okay if your potential MGO isn’t already fluent in whatever program your nonprofit uses. The most important thing is that they’re comfortable enough with technology to pick up the new program with a little help.
This facet of someone’s personality is especially important for a major gift officer. When working as a major gift officer, especially for a larger nonprofit organization, it’s key that your major gift officer be able to act discreetly in order to protect the privacy of your supporters.
There are two reasons why discretion is key for a major gift officer. The first is because your officer may have access to personal and sensitive information via the details a prospect has previously shared with your nonprofit.
The second is because there are limited major giving prospects in any given region. If your major gift officer is unable to keep the identities of your prospects during a fundraising cycle private, you risk them putting your supporters in an uncomfortable situation, especially if they are the types of supporters who enjoy giving to multiple organizations a year.
While it may be difficult to gauge someone’s level of discretion in an interview or over the phone, you can easily reach out to their references to learn about their behavior from people they’ve worked with in the past. Some valuable contacts to reach out to are:
- Former bosses.
- Former coworkers.
- Former subordinates.
Based on their level of interaction, each person will have a different perspective of your potential major giving officer, and those differences are valuable to your understanding of your prospective MGO!
Discretion is only one piece of the ‘effective MGO’ puzzle, though. For more information on major gift best practices, check out this guide to major giving from ClearView CRM.
Engagement is crucial for a major gift officer. Their role in your fundraising success is in the name—they’re a major part of your fundraising capacity! A major gift officer who just ‘phones it in’ without really digging into the weeds for your nonprofit is one who will be less effective than other potential officers.
Engagement from your MGO can be measured in the same way that you measure engagement with your supporters—by their level of involvement of various aspects of your organization as well as the fundraising industry as a whole. During the interview process, call your potential MGO’s references and find out how engaged they were with all aspects of the nonprofit.
Questions to ask during the interview to determine how engaged this person might be are:
- Do you enjoy learning about other colleagues’ positions and skills?
- Are you the type of person to specialize, or to be a jack of all trades?
- Would you attend office events, learning opportunities, or conferences?
Consider sending them a feedback questionnaire after their interview to gauge how they feel about the nonprofit. You’ll be able to tell how engaged they were with learning and responding during the interview by the level of detail they give in their answers!
The more someone knows about all parts of your nonprofit’s workforce, the more effective they’ll be at using their own position to the benefit of the organization.
7. Emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence, while more difficult to quantify, is a key trait for major gift officers to possess. Your major gift officer won’t be able to script every single interaction they have with a prospect, so they should be able to react quickly and think on their feet.
But quick thinking isn’t the only tool necessary to read a room and secure the major gift. Your major gift officer has to be able to tell when someone responds well to a certain method or discussion, or when they’ve hit a rough patch and need to recalibrate.
Major giving to a nonprofit organization is very personal for many people, so your major gift officer has to be able to walk the fine line between making a connection between your prospect and your organization, and pushing the boundaries into someone’s personal life.
This trait can be difficult to determine in an interview, so consider some of the following options to learn more about the emotional intelligence of a potential hire:
- Asking them to play out a scenario with a nonprofit staffer in which they have to adapt to an emotional shift.
- Call their references to learn how they adapt to interact with different prospects.
- Ask them to take a personality test to determine how they interpret situations.
All types of intelligence are important, but emotional intelligence is especially important for an officer who will interact with a variety of people on a near-daily basis about something as personal as major gifts.
The most important trait for your major gift officer to have is determination. Your nonprofit’s major giving strategy depends on the strength of will of your MGO.
It is no mean feat to come to work every day and know that most of the people that you interact with are going to tell you, “No.” It takes a certain level of resiliency, of flexibility and adaptation to thrive in a career like that.
When trying to find the right MGO for your nonprofit organization, look for determination and grit above all else.
Find someone who won’t be discouraged by an initial “no,” but instead will find a way to work with the prospect to reach a mutually beneficial agreement or a different solution to a problem that your nonprofit may have.
This trait may be hard to gauge with just an interview, so don’t be afraid to combine reaching out to someone’s references, giving them a personality test, and asking them to act out a scenario they may encounter during the hiring process.
Hiring anyone for your nonprofit may be an arduous undertaking, but by creating a list of the traits that are most important for each position, you can help yourself narrow down the list of potential hires to find the best fit.
For another useful tip for the administration of your nonprofit organization, check out this informative article on fundraising consultant fees from Averill Fundraising Solutions.
Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.