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5 Tips for Successfully Hiring a Major Gifts Officer

Posted Jun 05, 2024 04:30 PM
Every major gift your nonprofit receives represents hours of careful research, thoughtful stewardship, and meaningful solicitation work. As the largest contributions your nonprofit receives, these gifts have the power to truly drive your mission forward.

This is why it’s critical to have talented major gift officers (MGOs) leading your major giving program and building strong relationships with major donors. However, successfully hiring the right MGOs can be tricky, especially if you’re expanding your program for the first time.

This guide will walk you through what you need to know to be successful in your search, including five actionable tips for making the right hiring decisions.

The importance of hiring the right major gifts officer

Selecting individuals who will be your nonprofit’s MGOs is not a decision to be taken lightly. Let’s explore several reasons why it’s important to get the MGO hiring process right:

  • Major gifts are a source of significant revenue for your nonprofit. The 80/20 rule in fundraising states that 80% of a nonprofit’s funding comes from the top 20% of its donors. This underscores the importance of major donors and how your nonprofit approaches its relationships with them—in order to secure the majority of your funding, you need MGOs with the right skills taking on the challenge of identifying, getting to know, soliciting, and stewarding major donor prospects.
  • Major donor relationships require consistent and personalized stewardship. Not just anyone can walk into a major gift fundraising or development role and succeed. Your MGO candidates need the people skills, commitment, and technological expertise (to leverage resources like prospect research tools and your organization’s CRM) that will set them up for lasting success.
  • MGOs serve as ambassadors for your organization and its mission. MGO is an extremely public-facing role. This means the people you hire should be prepared to represent your mission in a positive and compelling way that helps enhance your nonprofit’s reputation and credibility.
  • The average fundraiser turnover rate is high. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the average amount of time a fundraiser stays in their job is just 16 months. When an MGO leaves after a short amount of time, the relationships they’ve been working to build are jeopardized, progress toward fundraising goals is halted, and institutional knowledge is lost.

Keep these reasons in mind as you begin looking for and interviewing candidates. They will also be helpful when preparing presentations for your organization’s leadership, as you’ll be able to justify your nonprofit’s need to hire MGOs.

Key qualities to seek in a major gifts officer

Though it’s clear that choosing the best MGOs possible is critical for your fundraising success, it can still be tricky to know the specific characteristics and qualifications you should be looking for.

Here’s a list that can help you write your job postings and evaluate candidates:

  • Familiarity with the fundamentals of nonprofit fundraising
  • Familiarity with and commitment to your nonprofit and mission
  • Familiarity with common fundraising tools and software
  • Strong communication skills
  • Determination and boldness
  • Resilience and persistence
  • Creativity

When you get to the interview stage of hiring an MGO, craft questions that will help you further determine whether a candidate meets the above qualifications. For example, to inquire about familiarity with common fundraising tools, you might ask if your candidate has ever used something like Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT or Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud to store donor information. Or, to inquire about the candidate’s determination, ask them what they would do in a hypothetical situation where a prospect has ignored their communication for multiple weeks.

5 tips for your MGO search

Hiring an MGO requires more than just sharing a job posting and hoping for the best. There are several ways you can take an active role in the MGO 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. 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.
  2. Turn to your peer organizations. Ask trusted colleagues if they’re aware of any MGOs 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 the right fit for that specific organization. This will generate warm leads for your candidate search.
  3. Ask for references and testimonials. Look at potential candidates’ work ethic more comprehensively by asking them to provide references and testimonials about their past efforts. This will give you insight into why the candidates left previous employers and connect you with people who can speak about what it is like to work with them.
  4. Equip MGOs with the right tools. This will help you retain your new MGOs, as you’ll be setting them up for success. 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, role-specific software is key to ensuring that investment is worthwhile. For assistance in identifying, implementing, and making the most out of these tools, consider working with a nonprofit technology consultant who can make tailored recommendations for your team.
  5. Pay attention to cultural fit. Your new MGO is going to join your team and become part of the group that is pushing your mission forward. As you consider candidates, think about how well they would fit into your working culture and what they might contribute to it. Pay special attention to each individual’s communication styles, goals for the future, and investment in seeing your work succeed.

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.