Major Gifts Officer
Simple? Keep in mind that as a major gifts officer at a large, national nonprofit organization, you will be charged with bringing in millions of dollars each year. To reach your fundraising goals, you will need to build a rapport with perhaps 100 donors or more scattered across the country, all with different quirks and concerns. And it's not necessarily easier to raise a few hundred thousand dollars at a smaller, local organization. Unless you join a nonprofit organization with loads of contacts with the wealthiest people in your area, it's going to take a lot of time, energy, planning and cajoling to convince donors barraged with fundraising requests that your organization is the most worthy among dozens that serve the community.
What does a major gifts officer do?
So it takes more than optimism, a love of good food and a fondness for schmoozing to become an effective major gifts officer. While major gifts officers are often gregarious and serve an important role as the face of the organization for donors, they engage in careful research, coordination and prioritization to keep those donors happy and ensure that the gifts keep coming.
The most fundamental activity of a major gifts officer is building a network of contacts, both with wealthy individuals and people who know the wealthy. At a larger, more established organization, you will start with an extensive network from which to build on; at a smaller organization, you may be starting with only a handful of existing donors. Either way, the methods for expanding the web of contacts are the same--you scheme with those closest to the organization to make new contacts. You work with your board of directors to reach out to those they know in the community, encourage your existing donors to introduce you to their friends and business associates and collaborate with your fellow fundraisers to identify individuals who give small amounts now but have the ability to give much more in the future.
Then you try to make a connection with existing and potential donors in pretty much any way you can think of, without annoying them. Most major gift officers try to either meet face-to-face or get on the phone with each of their donors once a year. They also may host gatherings of donors to thank them for their support or to provide them with information about the organization's activities. And they send letters and e-mail updates tailored to pique the interest of individual donors. The personal touch is essential, as is understanding the particular, and often peculiar, needs of your donors. Some will only give in response to a letter, will never attend informational lectures or events or eagerly look forward to the yearly luncheon at their favorite restaurant. Managing personal contact with a hundred donors is not easy. Planning and coordination are key activities; it's hard to overestimate the time it takes to schedule a year's worth of personal visits, events and phone calls.
Not every major donor gets the same level of time and attention; it's nearly impossible to do, and it's not necessarily a good use of the major gift officer's time. Thus, major gifts officers spend time prioritizing their donors, looking over research they have compiled and making some judgment calls on when a donor is ready to give and how much. Major gift officers keep detailed records of their interactions with donors, usually housed in a donor relations database. A review of all interactions with a donor can be an important part of the prioritization process; if the donor has given the same amount for a few years and revealed in last year's meeting that they would be coming into an inheritance, that's a donor worth spending some time to cultivate.
Many major gifts can be secured with a lunch and a handshake, but it's more and more common that wealthy donors want detailed written proposals describing how their money will be used. Major gift officers are therefore spending more time than ever before at the computer writing these proposals or working closely with grant writers to tailor existing proposals going out to foundations. And lunches to get to know the donor are rarely just that; more so than in previous times donors want to understand how their gift will make a difference to an organization and to the community at large. So major gifts officers must have a firm grasp on an organization's approach and activities and be quick on their feet to answer difficult questions.