The nonprofit sector is all about relationships. We all already know this, right? But nowhere are interpersonal relationships – with you and with people outside your organization – more important than with your
While every hire that you make is important, this is one that you'll want to pay extra close attention to, because it is a hire that can potentially make or break important relationships with individuals and organizations for years to come. If stewardship is like falling for your donors – and having them fall in love with you back – hiring a major gifts officer is like getting married. You're not just entering a relationship and having a crush any more!
With that in mind, you have to look for a lot of the same qualities you'd look for in an ideal mate, says Phil Gérard, a Vancouver-based consultant who worked as a nonprofits fundraiser for nearly two decades, who about four years ago got into the human resources and hiring and recruiting side of things.
“It's a business of long term vision that's not for someone with instant gratification needs,” said Gérard. He recommended a series of interviews where you really get to know the person you are hiring, because for all intents and purposes they are likely going to be one of the most visible people in your organization.
Hiring the right major gifts officer is complicated, not just because it's all about their relationship with your organization but because it's about their relationship with big donors. In this way, like a marriage, it becomes something of a dance, so look for someone who shares your sensibilities and sense of rhythm.
Should Major Gift Officers Have a Sales Background?
It's important, too, to consider the history and their background, and whether they believe in your mission, or just giving it lip service. After all, if you're entering a serious relationship you want more than someone who looks good on paper, don't you? You want to know if you're going to get along for the long term.
Often, nonprofits that are starting out and still learning the ropes are seduced by a strong background in sales. But sales numbers don't necessarily matter when you're dealing with fundraising, said Gérard. Instead, if you're in the market for a fundraiser, look for someone who has a strong strategic sense.
“We have this idea that fundraisers need to be gregarious outgoing and meet with people all the time, and sell an idea,” Gérard said. “But it's actually a job where you have to be very strategic, because if you're just out there promoting an idea, trying to sell an idea, but you're not talking to the right people, you're not making the right connections, then it's not going to be very successful.”
In other words, the “brute-force” method of salesmanship has to be left at the door in favor of forging real, human relationships. Remember, people are donating to you because they truly believe in your mission and want to see it succeed, and banging them over the head with a sales pitch will just end up turning them off – for good.
Always Be Listening
So while great major gifts officers come from a variety of backgrounds, there are some things that should be non-negotiable in your hiring decisions. To that end, you have to hire a great listener – someone who cares about human stories and really wants to communicate the story of your nonprofit organization.
“You have to understand what the people you are talking to are interested in,” explained Gérard. “Then you can establish and nurture those relationships, and really strategically target what you are going to propose as a potential project.”
Hire a Writer?
Another potentially overlooked quality to look for during your search for a good major gifts officer is how well they can write, he said.
“It's actually very important, because you need to be able to propose something – you can talk about it, but eventually you need to write a proposal, and it has to be a compelling one.”
But it's not just huge, important proposals or landing big one-time or recurring gifts that make for a great gift officer. It's the everyday minutiae of talking to and interacting with people that really becomes the glue between you and your donors.
“You have to create collateral material, you have to write thank you correspondence, all that, it's actually very important,” Gérard said.
So finding the right major donations person is kind of like that big marriage proposal. It feels like the end game, but really it's just the beginning of the everyday life that holds a partnership together. And like the best possible marriages, it takes work, communication on every front, and patience for detail – and one that will make for a rich and rewarding partnership for years to come.