Are You a Major-Gifts Explorer?
I enjoy reading about a variety of topics. I always try to relate topics to our fundraising world.
I recently was studying the history of early explorers. These individuals were fearless and true risk takers. One particular explorer I researched was Ferdinand Magellan. He lived from 1480 to 1521. This Portuguese explorer led the first European voyage of discovery to circumnavigate the globe at a time when many felt the globe was flat. He was a nonprofit professional in the sense he had to ask those of wealth to fund his voyages. He also had to convince tribal leaders to trade with him.
Talk about a relationship builder. He certainly had a degree of major gift officer (MGO) skills and abilities.
According to the Public Broadcasting Major Giving Initiative, successful major-giving efforts result from collaboration among the organization’s management, professional development staff and leadership volunteers.
Success at major giving is partly a function of the resources the organization is willing to invest in it. The ideal MGO has several characteristics that call for a mix of left- and right-brain characteristics that few people possess.
- A “people person,” not just comfortable meeting others, but genuinely interested in them
- An active listener, who not only takes in what is being said, but signals understanding to the speaker
- Is knowledgeable in a broad range of interests, and therefore able to comfortably converse on many subjects
- A facilitator, comfortable with empowering others to succeed and willing to stay behind the curtain, when necessary
- At the same time, a leader, fearless about closing the gift, when needed
- Is passionate about the organization and able to convey that zeal
- Is detail-oriented in such areas as event planning, file analysis and record keeping
- Possesses a keen ability to discern the readiness of prospective donors to progress toward deeper engagement with station in service to the community, and in some cases to make a major gift
In my career, I have hired a large number of development officers who were responsible for major gifts. When I interviewed these individuals, I was looking for officers who could close gifts and had successful experience in managing a portfolio of prospects through identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship phases. In addition to the ones previously mentioned in the Public Broadcasting Major Giving Initiative, I also sought the following characteristics in those I hired:
- An individual who is driven by goals and success
- Someone with a sense of humor
- An academic with intelligence in reading, writing and speaking
- Someone who is a perfectionist and can articulate a case for support
- Someone with confidence who can easily present and interact with internal and external constituencies
- A multi-talented individual who can handle several priorities at once
- A team player who cares about scoring—and about helping teammates score
- A person of high integrity and mission-focus
Did I also mention that I like a major-gifts individual who sets an example for others to follow?
In the many facets of development, my favorite position is major gifts. The MGO must be a global visual and understand all facets of development. If you are a Nabisco development cookie, the two outside pieces are annual gifts and planned gifts. The inside of the cookie is major gifts.
To achieve long-term success as an MGO, you have to understand how complex your world is in reality. You are an explorer as you set sail to build new relationships—internally with staff, administration and volunteers, and externally with prospects. You must have clarity of purpose and focus as each relationship and fiscal year is different.
I have strong feelings about major gifts, as that was my primary development focus throughout my career. I only have worked with a few outstanding MGOs. This position is extremely demanding, and someone must possess a unique combination of skills to survive and thrive. Ask yourself if you are a major-gifts explorer. If you can master this area of development, a long and successful career is ahead of you!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.