Fundraise Smarter

What Makes a Good Major Gift Officer?

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Feb 9, 2015 5:38:00 PM

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Soliciting major gift is a unique kind of job. In one sense, you need the kind of person who’s passionate about an organization’s mission (you know, warm and fuzzy feelings). However, you also need someone with the shrewd sales skills of a stock broker.

Salespeople often get a bad wrap. The image of a slimy used car salesman comes to mind. He’s trying to put lipstick on a pig and sell you a piece of junk car for far more money than it’s worth. He’s more interested in getting more of your money into his pocket than he is about providing you solutions to your needs.

How could that personality possibly fit in with a nonprofit model?

Thankfully, it doesn’t. The Educational Advisory Board (EAB), a research consultancy firm focusing on higher education, sought out to find out what exactly make for a high-performing major gift officer.

The answer? A little bit of everything.

The best major gift officers aren’t super analytical, super personable, smooth talkers, or strategic thinkers. At least, they’re none of those things by themselves. Rather, they embody pieces of all of these traits.

EAB identified four characteristics that the top performing officers possess: Intellectual and social curiosity, behavioral and linguistic flexibility, strategic solicitation, and information distillation. They dubbed major gift officers who have all four of these traits: “The Curious Chameleon.”

Get this: Curious Chameleons have a 78% higher chance of exceeding their fundraising goals than their peers.

Talk about closers.

If you think about each of these traits, these findings start to make a lot of sense. These are the exact kind of people you want to talk to at parties! Take a look at this infographic to see what I mean:


They ask enough questions to make you feel engaged and valued, yet they contribute enough of their own thoughts to the conversation that you don’t get sick of talking about yourself. When you talk, they’re actually listening, not just waiting for you to finish.

You like sports? They can talk sports. You like movies? They know movies. You like music? They’ve got that down too.

My former boss’s husband was like this (he worked in sales, which is too bad, sounds like he’d be an amazing major gift officer). One second, he could be talking to a recent college graduate about movies, the next he’s conversing with a 60-year old man about baseball. It was masterful!

Yet at the same time, the Curious Chameleon possess the sales acumen necessary to be a master fundraiser and gift closer. She’s transparent with prospects and lets them know why she’s talking to them (to get them to give money), she’s not afraid to come out and ask for a gift, and she doesn’t let rejection get her down.

Any good salesperson will tell you that sales is a numbers game, and you’ll get rejected far more often than you close. You’ve got to play the numbers and make a lot of attempts.

Finding these types of MVP MGO’s may be easier said than done, but EAB has some suggestions there too. They suggest expanding recruiting efforts beyond the academic or NPO worlds and look at marketers, salespeople, and finance workers from the for-profit sector. It’s important to also implement a variety of exercises that can detect these traits in the interview process such as prospect profile reviews, writing activities, and role playing activities.

And once you find your Curious Chameleon, make sure you hang onto them!

What does your organization do to source top MGO talent? Let us know in the comments!

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Image credit: Flickr user Erik (HASH) Hersman, CC-BY-2.0, text added by Andrew Littlefield

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Topics: Major Gifts, fundraising

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