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4 Tips for Successfully Hiring a Major Gifts Officer

Posted Jan 20, 2022 10:43 AM
Major gift officers (MGOs) are nonprofit staff members whose sole job is to secure major gifts for your organization. Depending on the size of your nonprofit, you may rely on one MGO or a team of officers who work in tandem.

There are few times when the impact of effective major gift officers is better observed than during the year-end fundraising season. If your MGOs were effective throughout the year, it could mean a number of large gifts coming to your nonprofit every December. In that case, you may be reading this article to further improve upon this success. However, if your last year-end giving season resulted in fewer (and smaller) major gifts, it might be time to hire entirely new officers to your team.

Regardless of your motivation for hiring new MGOs, you must select and interview candidates carefully to maximize success. This guide will discuss tips for hiring a major gift officer through the following points:

  • The Importance of Hiring The Right Major Gift Officer
  • Key Qualities to Seek in a Major Gift Officer
  • 4 Tips for Your Major Gift Officer Search

Before we discuss how to hire an effective major gift officer to join your team, let’s first look at why it’s so important to bring on the right team member for the job.

The Importance of Hiring The Right Major Gift Officers

According to DNL OmniMedia’s Guide to Blackbaud Fundraiser Performance Management, more than 80% of a nonprofit’s donations come from their top 12 major donors. However, at the same time, 60% of the best prospective major donors are likely not even on your radar.

Here are a few reasons why some prospective major donors get overlooked:

  • Only 37% of major gift officers use their nonprofit’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system for prospect cultivation.
  • 79% of essential major gift data are never entered into that CRM by the MGO.
  • Major gift officers stay at an organization for fewer than 3 years on average, so they have fairly high turnover rates.

It’s commonly understood that major-gift fundraising is a data-driven effort: prospect research and wealth screening are vital to understanding an individual’s affinity and capacity to make a significant gift. However, when MGOs don’t use your nonprofit’s CRM effectively, they’re likely to miss critical connections in your data that indicate an individual is a major donor prospect.

Then, when MGOs quickly leave your organization— whether due to burnout, lack of success, or simply seeking greener pastures— the connections and knowledge that the individual has gained (and not logged in your CRM) leave with them.

With this in mind, it’s crucial to hire major gift officers dedicated to your organization and mission and willing to go the extra mile to secure a gift. This dedication and willingness to complete mundane tasks (like data entry) and to stick around for multiple years will increase their gift solicitation success over time.

Key Qualities to Seek in a Major Gift Officer

“Dedication to your mission and cause” is entirely qualitative and challenging to measure with hiring assessments and test scores. It’s helpful to consider the main responsibilities of an MGO to guide your search.

Double the Donation’s guide to major gifts mentions a few key MGO responsibilities:

  • Conducting prospect research to discover individuals who have a high capacity and affinity to make a large donation.
  • Spearheading the major giving conversations between your nonprofit and prospective major donors.
  • Following up with prospective major donors to ensure gift conversations don’t come to a standstill.

Then, use your list of responsibilities to formulate characteristics that a qualified candidate should possess in order to meet the needs of the role. For example, you might include:

  • Familiarity with the basics of nonprofit fundraising
  • Familiarity with your nonprofit and mission
  • Strong communication skills
  • Determination and boldness
  • Creativity

You can then use interview questions to inquire whether a candidate meets the above qualifications. For example, to inquire about creativity, ask about one time that the candidate had a project derailed and what they did to problem solve. Or, to inquire about the candidate’s determination, ask them what they would do in the hypothetical situation where a prospective major donor has ignored their communications for multiple weeks.

4 Tips for Your Major Gift Officer Search

Once you’ve defined what constitutes an effective major gift officer, you can begin your search. Avoid simply posting a job listing and hoping for the best. There are a number of ways that you can take an active role in the major gift officer hiring process to give your organization and its potential hires the best chance of success.

1. Partner with a consultant

Just as there are nonprofit consulting partners who specialize in technology, fundraising, and accounting, there are also consultants who specialize in nonprofit human resources and hiring.

If your organization is just building its formal major gifts infrastructure, or simply seeking a major change in your team, consider bringing in a consultant to source top talent. Many hiring-focused firms will not only help you discover and interview top candidates, but they’ll also provide interim staffing to ensure your organization’s major gift fundraising efforts aren’t halted during the candidate selection process.

When partnering with a consultant, begin with firms that operate in your locality. While it’s not absolutely necessary that a consultant be local, a partner who is local may have the best insight into MGOs who are seeking employment in your area. From there, aim to partner with a firm that has experience working with organizations of your nonprofit’s scope. They’ll be most familiar with your hiring capacity and help you hire within your budget.

2. Turn to your peer organizations

While you may technically be competing against other nonprofits for donors’ gifts, the nonprofit world is generally very supportive across the board. Each organization is working to accomplish a better world and society overall— so, success for one nonprofit means success for all.

Turn to peer organizations to see if they’re aware of any major gift officers in your area that would be a good fit for the role. For example, consider speaking with leadership at nonprofits that are a similar size to your organization and located in your region. They may have interviewed candidates who, while clearly effective, weren’t a right fit for that specific organization. This will generate warm leads for your candidate search.

3. Ask for references and testimonials

When you’re interviewing prospective major gift officers, don’t base hiring decisions on your interviews alone. Remember— effective MGOs will have well-established communications skills. They’ll naturally be personable, but you’ll want to look beyond that to understand their work ethic more comprehensively.

Ask each candidate to provide references and testimonials about their past efforts. Why did they leave previous nonprofit employers? Could they connect you with any previous peers who can speak about the experience of working with them?

4. Equip major gift officers with the right tools

Lastly, once you hire a new major gift officer, your goal should be to retain that employee for the long run. Recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new employees is expensive for any organization— let alone a nonprofit that wants to direct as much of its funding toward its mission as possible.

One of the best ways to retain major gift officers is to help them be successful in their roles. Because major gift fundraising is so data-driven, equipping MGOs with role-specific software is one way to do so.

For example, there are now tools that you can overlay on top of your nonprofit’s CRM to provide major-gift-specific functionality. This includes moves management tools, prospect research tools, and even peer benchmarking tools.

If you’re investing in growing your major gifts team, management software that’s role-specific is key to ensuring that investment is worthwhile.

About the Author: Carl Diesing, Managing Director – Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together, DNL OmniMedia has worked with 100+ organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.