What to Look for When Hiring a Major Gifts Officer

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Nonprofit leaders know just how difficult it can be to identify strong candidates who have a passion for their organization’s mission and know to fundraise.

It can be tricky (and scary!) to hand off a portfolio of supporters to someone else. After all, your reputation and revenue goals are on the line—not to mention that the beneficiaries of your mission depend upon the success of your fundraisers.

It takes a lot of trust to hire and empower a fundraiser. That’s no easy task. And that is why hiring a major-gifts officer needs to be focused on identifying the right qualities to ensure as much as possible that your donors are in the right hands.

Hiring guidelines and methodologies are as numerous as the hairs on your head, but when it comes to hiring a major-gifts officer, here are four ways to keep it simple when assessing your applicants.


  1. SOCIAL RECIPROCITY—The ideal MGO will be able to balance sharing information about themselves and furthering the conversation with you, while also listening and paying attention to your level of engagement.

    This helps you to assess their level of “social reciprocity.” If they are upselling themselves too much and not able to read your body language or pick up on your declining levels of patience and interest, then how well could they present with donors? Someone who is highly polished but can’t read social cues is a yellow flag.

  2. RESILIENCY—Knocking on doors to hear “no” nine out of 10 times requires someone who isn’t easily disheartened. If anything, the more “no” they hear, the harder they should work at what it takes to get a “yes.” A talented MGO has done enough cultivation work so that they will hear some type of “yes” that can be couched in what immediately sounds like a “no.” A resilient person can keep working through closed doors, trusting in the process, and not discouraged by the inevitable uphill battle.
  3. IMPROVISATION—Can they respond quickly to new information or changing donor preferences? Try asking them a question you know they won’t be ready for just to see if they can come up with a good (it doesn’t have to be perfect!) response on the spot. For example, pretend you just met someone who has never heard of X organization. What is your 30-second elevator pitch to get them interested? Or, what are two to three questions you’d ask a donor who shared that they are really interested in our X program? Again, you’re not expecting a polished response, but you want to find out if they can think on their feet while demonstrating confidence, creativity, and intelligence.
  4. MOTIVATIONS—During the interview, determine what motivates this candidate. Sometimes it is money and an aggressive bonus structure. This person probably isn’t simply focused on accumulating wealth, but he likes to be rewarded in a concrete way for going above and beyond. Or maybe it is flexibility within their position—they prefer setting their own travel and working remotely. Or it could be the opportunity for growth and learning, joining a strong team that will make them a better professional. Whatever the motivation, learning that early on will help to determine if their motivations are a good fit for your organization’s culture and practices.


Sometimes with hiring you have to work with what you’ve got and trust the Good Lord will take care of the rest. But avoid these common traps that circumvent the investment you might need to recruit the right person for a major-gifts position.

With so much going on, the temptation to hire quickly is understandable—but may cause more trouble down the line.

  • A friend of a board member. Just like identifying donors, your board may be helpful in recruiting talent. Sometimes, though, that may be a family member or a friend of a friend who needs a job. It’s important to screen all qualified candidates whatever the source, and be mindful of not acquiescing too quickly to appease a board member.
  • They’ve done sales! Transferable skills sets are just that: transferable. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a more junior person who has experience forming trusting relationships and making an ask of some kind—just ensure to have a plan for training and onboarding since the upfront investment will need to be higher for the long-term payoff. Similarly, hiring a more senior person with business/sales experience will require greater planning vis-a-vis compensation/bonuses and vetting nonprofit fit and organizational culture.
  • Really likeable, but struggles with… Okay, perfection is the endeavor of fools, but an MGO has the decidedly difficult position of needing both excellent interpersonal skills and great organization. Managing a caseload requires significant attention to detail. If you identify the best evangelist for your mission, but notice that other weaknesses exist, confront that early on with a plan for how to compensate for those weaknesses or to provide additional professional development.

People are absolutely essential for your organizational growth and success. Bad staff are bad for morale, bad for revenue, bad for mission. Good staff, on the other hand, are the key ingredient to a growing, thriving organization. The most important thing in hiring is to stick to the basics: good people, who love your mission, and are willing to work hard.

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