Your Nonprofit’s Major Gift Officer: 5 Best Traits
A huge chunk of a nonprofit’s donation revenue comes from major gifts—or it should. You might be thinking to yourself, “My nonprofit is too small for a major gift program,” or “We can’t afford a major gift officer right now.” The hard truth is that these are just excuses.
Small nonprofits are just as qualified to start major gift programs as large nonprofits, as long as you frame the fundraising efforts in the right light. You’ll need to define what a major gift means to your organization and treat the program as the heart of your fundraising strategy rather than an add-on.
Once you’ve decided to start your program, or maybe expand or improve an existing major gift program, you should start thinking about your major gift officer.
Your nonprofit’s major gift officer is the person in charge of identifying, cultivating, stewarding and soliciting major gifts.
If you think that you can’t afford a major gift officer, you’re probably under the impression that you need a new hire to take on the job. In reality, you can consider the qualities of your existing fundraising team and choose the best person to take on the responsibilities of the position.
Whether you’re hiring a new major gift officer or assigning the duties to an existing member of your team, look for an officer who:
- Has fundraising field experience
- Understands your nonprofit’s fundraising
- Is a data-driven researcher
- Communicates effectively
- Works well with a team
Ensuring you have the best man or woman in charge of major gift fundraising is the first step to establishing an effective program. Let’s dive in to learn more about each of these wonderful qualities!
1. The Best Major Gift Officers Have Plenty of Field Experience.
One of the biggest advantages of hiring an outside party to fulfill the position of major gift officer is the potential for field expertise. You can choose to hire a professional who has run major gift fundraising programs in the past.
They should have experience with various types of fundraising campaigns and the preparation required for these campaigns.
Look for a major gift officer experienced with:
- Major fundraising campaigns. Specific fundraising experience, such as with capital campaigns, will ensure your major gift officer is ready for anything. They should have experience with every step of a major campaign, from effective feasibility studies to engaging the board to writing grants.
- Donor stewardship programs. Instead of simply asking for gifts over and over again, make sure your major gift officer has experience with stewarding donors to build relationships. This strategy is often overlooked, especially by nonprofits hiring their first officer. Relationship-building is a key part of the position, so the more experience the better!
While this is a major advantage of hiring a person with past experience as a major gift officer, small nonprofits who aren’t hiring externally may look to their most experienced fundraiser.
This internal person should have plenty of experience with your past fundraising campaigns and understand your donor base. If your organization is so small that you don’t have an established donor base, it may not be time to embark on a major gift program.
If you’re looking for more context about capital campaigns or want to read about how experts launch one, check out Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s article on capital campaign best practices.
2. The Best Major Gift Officers Understand Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Needs.
Smaller nonprofits and others hiring internally may have a leg up when it comes to hiring a major gift officer who understands the specific needs of your nonprofit.
Hiring internally for this position will ensure that your organization chooses from a group of people already immersed in your mission. The new officer will already be familiar with the methods your organization has used in the past to address their most prominent needs.
Organizations hiring externally for the position of a major gift officer need to establish an on-boarding plan to help the officer better understand the mission of your nonprofit and the history of your fundraising efforts.
There are some steps your nonprofit can take if you’re hiring externally to ensure the smoothest transition. These steps include:
- Researching potential new hires’ histories. If they’ve worked with organizations similar in mission to yours in the past, they’ll come in with a better understanding of your nonprofit.
- Providing an organization summary. Before hiring someone, give them a written summary of your nonprofit’s mission—or a case for support—to make sure they’re interested. The major gift officer will work harder and be a more effective fundraiser for a cause they care about.
No matter where the hire comes from, all major gift officers should familiarize themselves with the services provided by the nonprofit they work with. Try not to overwhelm new hires with information, but provide them with the key tools they need to learn about your organization and its amazing mission.
3. The Best Major Gift Officers Are Data-Driven Researchers.
One of the responsibilities of the major gift officer is identifying potential major donors. Rather than playing the guessing game to decide who among your current donors will be the best candidate, your major gift officer should find it natural to take a data-driven approach to this research.
It’s always helpful when your major gift officer has experience working with the software and data the job requires. For instance, they should have experience working with top CRM software, such as Salesforce, Bloomerang, Clearview and Salsa Labs. Each of these software solutions offers some method of measuring engagement with your nonprofit.
Major gift officers will likely start their data-driven research with your nonprofit’s CRM, then conduct further prospect research using tools like DonorSearch.
From the CRM, your major gift officer will collect information about the engagement of your individual supporters, looking for the highest levels. Then, they’ll use DonorSearch or other prospect research tools to better understand the wealth and philanthropic indicators for each individual.
With this information, your major gift officer will have a better understanding of:
- Who qualifies as the best major gift prospects
- What ask amount is appropriate for each prospect
- The prospects’ interests, to better personalize each ask
The prospect’s interests are key to better engaging your prospect and getting them genuinely interested in giving. For instance, if a prospect has shown a historic interest in your nonprofit’s events, you can appeal to this interest by asking them to give in support of building your new event center.
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Another important aspect of the major gift officer position is donor stewardship. Your officer will need to build relationships with key donors on behalf of your organization. Therefore, it’s important for the major gift officer to be an effective communicator.
Your major gift officer should be someone who is an effective communicator on any platform.
For instance, they should have no difficulty communicating with people:
- Online. Emails, texts and social media messaging are great ways to keep in touch with prospects and tell them about the newest updates from your organization.
- Face-to-face. When you plan stewardship or community events, your major gift officer should be at the forefront, making conversation. This gives your prospects a friendly face to associate with your organization’s name.
- In writing. Major gift prospects often appreciate a personalized letter, so make sure your major gift officer is an effective writer. This can help with stewardship, formal asks, thank-yous and acknowledgment letters.
Stress with your major gift officer the importance of communicating consistently rather than persistently. Donors don’t want to be harassed. An effective communicator will be able to naturally nurse a relationship without overwhelming prospects.
5. The Best Major Gift Officers Work Well With a Team.
While it’s important for your major gift officer to be an effective leader, they also need to play nicely with others. Make sure to choose a major gift officer who is team-oriented.
Your officer will need to communicate with a whole slew of people in order to effectively run your major giving program. Other people who will be working with your major gift officer include:
- Other fundraisers. Your major gift officer will need to lead the initiative for major gifts, but can’t become so involved that they no longer listen to the other fundraisers. They may have ideas or potential prospects to share. Make sure your officer is comfortable sharing the spotlight and collaborating on asks!
- Financial professionals. Because major gifts make up such a large portion of a nonprofit’s revenue, your major gift officer will need to work closely with your accounting department. They’ll need to discuss major gift amounts and operational vs. project costs.
- Fundraising consultants. Too many people consider hiring a fundraising consultant only when they’re struggling as an organization. The truth is, anyone can (and should) hire a consultant if they’re looking to improve or refine their fundraising strategy. Major gift officers should welcome these consultants and be open to their ideas. Click here to learn more about how to hire a consultant for your nonprofit.
Sometimes it’s hard to share the spotlight, especially for a key player like your major gift officer. Ensuring you hire a team-oriented person from the beginning is the best way to get the most out of your fundraising efforts.
All of these traits are necessary for the major gift role. Look for candidates who have these traits, understand your nonprofits specific needs and work well with your team. Once you’ve found the best person for the job, you get to watch your major gifts program take off!