Nancy Says: Why Is It So Hard to Find a Good Major Gifts Officer?

Yes, it is.  Yes, it’s going to be hard to do a search.  Hiring a major gift officer is like finding the winning thoroughbred in a corral of horses.  You have to kiss a lot of horses to get there.  No way around it.  It’s hard work.

So why?

  1. The proliferation of non-profits has skyrocketed to $1.5m, with a 25% increase in the ten year period between 2001 and 2011 alone.
  1. Each organization, in one way or another, is being tasked to raise more and more (and more and more) money from individuals.
  1. Unfortunately, $1.5m trained staff or volunteers are not available to do the job.
  1. Those staff and volunteers in position and tasked with major gifts are in way too many cases woefully unprepared for the high stress, high expectation, highly skilled, sales-like effort that is required for a successful program. Many organizations are simply unprepared for what is required to support a successful program.


Here are some tips that might help to set the stage for a successful search.

  1. Move beyond expecting that you will publish a job description with an emphasis on how great your organization’s mission is and what it is doing for the community and resumes will flock in.
    • Make sure your job description lays out the core values of your organization.
    • Think through what things your organization has that make it a good work environment and one geared for major gifts success.
    • Think like the applicant. They have many opportunities.  Why consider your organization and this job?
    • How can they be successful? Surveys of MGOs state over and over that staff (and for that matter volunteer committee/board members) leave their positions because the expectations are unrealistic and not widely understood or supported.
  1. Think outside the box about what you are really looking for.
    • There are few MGOs to choose from, so step back and consider those with related skills set that can be found in many sales-oriented sectors. You want someone who knows how to manage a portfolio and deliver. They can learn the rest. Believe me.
    • Aren’t you really looking for emotional intelligence, organizational skills, strong energy, positive vibe and good listening skills?
  2. Be proactive in sending individualized emails and phone calls to colleagues to get them excited about the opportunity and help you with suggestions and leads to talented individuals. Put them to work for you.
    • Look at young, up-and-coming talent. Take a chance on this being a perfect next step for them and you are likely to have found someone very grateful to you for the opportunity to show you what they can do.  Many young people get stuck in positions and just need that perfect next step. It could easily be yours.
    • Use social media to get the word out with a strong content highlighting the opportunity.

Now write that job description that conveys these important things.  That will help you do the first cut of applicants.  Are they in or out of that circle that you have now drawn?  Next, take a step back and decide who you are. Do you need someone in this position who is just like you and will carry out an extension of all that you want to accomplish? Or do you need them to bring something to the table that you don’t have to expand your thinking and skill set?  Start there.

When you find the fit – you’ll know it.


Return to Brimhall and Associates website.

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