Major gifts likely make up a large portion of your nonprofit’s fundraising revenue. In fact, as of 2015, over 53% of nonprofits considered major gifts to be absolutely vital to their fundraising strategy.
Fostering large donor relationships and learning the art of asking for major gifts takes tact. Every step from the initial research to the donation ask requires careful planning and consideration from your staff. That’s why so many nonprofits dedicate a single, skilled employee to strategize and take the lead with major gifts: the major gift officer.
Large nonprofits often hire a Major Gifts Officer to join the leadership team. However, smaller nonprofits may opt to assign an existing staff member to take on the responsibilities of a major gift officer.
No matter how big or small your nonprofit, the person in charge of the major giving strategy must wear many hats. The major gift officer should be skilled enough in a variety of fields to serve as your organization’s:
With a resource as vital to your nonprofit’s success as major gifts, it’s important to make sure you have the best person in charge. Let’s dive in to learn more about what it takes to be a successful major gift officer!
Your major gift officer must be an advocate for your organization. We don’t just mean that they should loosely believe in what you do. They need to really live and breath your mission to do the best job they can.
This foundational trait will trickle down into every other aspect of the major gift officer position. After all, how can your team member convince someone else to become passionate about your nonprofit’s mission if they’re not passionate about it themselves?
This person should not only be passionate in the midst of donation conversations, but they should also be immediately recognized as an active part of your nonprofit’s advocate community. Therefore, make sure your major gift officer is involved with the engagement opportunities you host for your supporters. These include:
- The donor communications process. While major gift officers are heavily involved in communication with major prospects, you should also make sure their name is on other communication documents as well. This will establish a friendly name for donors to associate with your organization in future stewardship.
- Stewardship events. Your major gift officer should attend as many stewardship events as possible and talk to supporters in a casual location. This will make them recognizable to donors and approachable for later conversations.
- Your website. Include your staff members on your nonprofit’s website so that donors can match a face with a name when they’re talking to representatives. This provides context for the donor and helps your organization provide a personal touch.
While these may seem like small involvement opportunities, taking the additional steps to establish a rapport with donors will pay off in the end. When your organization decides to lean on your major gift officer for a large scale campaign such as a capital campaign, a friendly face will help convert more donors and help your campaign succeed.
As a part of the cultivation process, your major gift officer will need to conduct extensive research about your donor prospects. Therefore, a successful major gift officer is also an effective researcher.
As a part of the officer’s prospect generator process, they’ll need to identify prospects by using philanthropic and wealth data as well as decide the right ask amount for each of these prospects. Effectively using the following fundraising tools will be an important aspect of the job:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Generally, the best place to launch your prospect research is in your CRM software. Your major gift officer can use the data in this resource to learn more about past donors and supporters who can be converted into major donors.
- Prospect research databases. Prospect research tools make it easy to screen for data related to a prospect’s philanthropic (affinity for giving) and wealth (gift capacity) indicators.
- Major gift calculators. While they can be used for any fundraising campaign, major gift calculators are especially helpful during the quiet phase of capital campaigns to tell you how far away your nonprofit is from meeting your financial goals.
If your major gift officer has previous experience working with these resources, it will be easier for them to transition into this role. After your major gift officer has found the prospective donors, it’s time for them to put on the hat of a storyteller.
Remember how we said that your major gift officer needs to be passionate about your mission? This is the time for that passion to shine through. Your major gift officer should be an effective communicator and storyteller in order to best advocate for your nonprofit.
This storytelling technique will be used for both verbal and written communications. The best major gift officers will be able to adjust their approach in order to best communicate with and steward different donor audiences. They’ll need to talk to prospective donors about:
- The story of your organization. Because prospects are likely already loyal supporters of your organization, you don’t need to start from the beginning, but it will be important to talk to donors about their place in your organization’s story.
- What the money will be used for. Donors are very unlikely to give major gifts without first knowing the specifics of its use. By using effective storytelling techniques, your major gift officer can show your donor how important their gift is to your mission.
- How much your nonprofit appreciates them. Today, large donors expect more than just a name or logo on your website and thank you email as recognition for their contributions. Your major gift officer should follow up with donors via phone call and a handwritten letter to reiterate your appreciation for their gift in addition to providing updates about how their gift was used.
A good storyteller is someone who is detail-oriented, personable, positive and able to read the room. It’s important for your major gift officer to understand their audience and adjust their message as needed.
Major gift officers juggle a lot of information at once. Therefore, one of the top qualities of a successful officer is someone who is organized. They will need to have an effective method of tracking information through each step of the fundraising cycle.
Identification: Your major gift officer needs to organize the donors identified during the research process. It’s also helpful to save the prospect research in your CRM. If you don’t have a place to store this information, you may need to reconsider your CRM software.
Cultivation: Your major gift officer needs an effective way to track past communications with various prospects. This will help them avoid dropping prospects on accident, waiting too long between messaging or accidentally sending the same message twice.
Solicitation: Your major gift officer should track the ask amounts for each prospect, how many of each ask amount it’ll take to reach your campaign financial goal and the number of prospects who agree to donate. Gift range charts are the perfect place to plan this information and start tracking.
Recognition: Your major gift officer needs to track the acknowledgments they send out to each of the donors. Make sure you have accurate records to demonstrate that you showed your appreciation for these donors and sent them important information for tax deductions.
While your major gifts officer needs to be an effective leader in your nonprofit’s community, it’s also imperative that they’re able to collaborate with others. Many people are good at one or the other—leading or collaborating—but finding a major gift officer who can do both is the best option.
Your major gift officer needs to lead the way to major gifts while also understanding and working well with the rest of your organization.
For instance, they’ll probably need to work closely with your marketing team to promote campaigns and with the rest of your fundraising team to hit all of your goals.
If your organization is starting a capital campaign, don’t let your major gift officer work alone for the quiet phase. Hiring a capital campaign consultant can help lead them through the additional work these campaigns demand. Check out Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to hiring a capital campaign consultant to learn more about how to hire the best fit for your organization.
Major gifts officers wear many hats in your organization. Therefore, in order to be successful, they must have a very specific set of qualities. Take the 5 qualities we discussed here into consideration when hiring or finding the right person on your team to fit the role!
This article was authored by Aly Sterling, Founder and President of Aly Sterling Philanthropy, a partnership-driven consulting firm for nonprofits.