Being a successful fundraiser is all about establishing relationships. And while there are many different ways to build relationships with potential donors, one of the most important is through face-to-face interaction. That’s where major gifts officers come in.
Major gifts officers are responsible for identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding relationships with major donors. If you’re new to this role, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. But don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you hit the ground running and succeed as a new major gifts officer.
How do I manage a new Major Gifts Officer?
This article is designed for a new major gifts officer and what they need to accomplish in the first 90 days. If you’re managing a new major gifts officer, there are a couple of things you’ll need to do during this time.
When bringing on a new major gifts officer (MGO), it’s important to set clear expectations from the start and then take the time to assess their performance over the first few months on the job. This evaluation period is essential for understanding whether or not your new hire is meeting (or exceeding) expectations and if they’re a good fit for the role longterm. Here’s a breakdown of how to go about evaluating a new MGO in their first 90 days.
1. Set Clear Expectations: The first step is setting clear expectations with your new MGO. What are the deliverables you need them to hit? What fundraising goals do they need to meet? How much hands-on training and support are they going to need? By getting all of this information out in the open from the start, you’ll avoid any misunderstandings down the road.
2. Create a Game Plan: Once you’ve set clear expectations, it’s time to create a game plan for how your new MGO will hit those targets. This plan should be comprehensive and cover everything from what databases they’ll be using to how they’ll be cultivation and solicitation strategies. Having a solid game plan in place will help keep your new MGO on track—and provide you with concrete benchmarks against which to measure their progress.
3. Conduct Regular Check-Ins: During those first 90 days, it’s important to check in with your new MGO regularly (we recommend weekly). These check-ins give you an opportunity to see how they’re settling into the role, if they have any questions or concerns, and how they’re progressing against those fundraising goals. It’s also a chance for you to offer feedback and coaching as needed.
The first 90 days on the job are critical for assessing a new major gifts officer’s performance—and determining whether or not they’re going to be successful in the role longterm. By setting clear expectations, creating a comprehensive game plan, and conducting regular check-ins, you can ensure that your new MGO hits the ground running and makes a positive impact on your fundraising efforts from day one.
Days 1-21: Get to Know Your Team
I know you’re eager to get started and build relationships with potential donors, but you need to take time to learn about the organization or its donors. Here are some tips on how you can learn about your team and your organization’s donors, including time you spend with your manager or organization’s president.
1. Schedule a meeting with each member of your team. During these meetings, the you can learn about each team member’s role, responsibilities, and goals. You can also ask questions about the team’s donor base and get insights into what has worked well in the past when cultivate and soliciting gifts from major donors.
2. Review your organization’s donor database together. Spend some time going over the different types of information that is tracked for each donor with your manager. This will help the you understand what type of information is important to capture when you meet with potential donors. It will also give you a better understanding of your current donor base and their giving history.
3. Discuss your organization’s fundraising efforts to date. You should be up-to-date on your progress towards meeting your fundraising goals. You can also ask questions about specific fundraising campaigns and how they were executed. This will give you a better understanding of what has been working well and what areas need improvement.
4. Set up a shadowing experience. Ask your manager for time to sit in on a few donor meetings or by accompany them on a few visits to prospective donors. Shadowing experiences are an excellent way for the MGO to observe how you interact with donors and learn about the type of relationship-building that is necessary for success in this role.
5. Prepare a report on his findings. After you have had a chance to review all of this information, prepare a report detailing what you have learned about your team and your nonprofit’s donor base. This report can be used as a reference for future discussions with your manager and will help ensure that you are prepared when you start meeting with potential donors.
6. Role-play donor meetings with your manager! This is an excellent way for you to practice your skills and get feedback from your manager on your performance.
By following these tips, you can help prepare to find success in your new role at your nonprofit. By scheduling meetings with each member of your team, reviewing your organization’s donor database, discussing past fundraising efforts, and shadowing experienced staff members, you will gain valuable knowledge about your team and your nonprofit’s donors.
Who should your meet with?
The President/CEO: You will want to arrange a meeting with the president/CEO as soon as possible. This meeting will give you an opportunity to get to know each other and discuss the president/CEO’s expectations for you and your role on the team. You should also ask about the organization’s history, mission, and goals. This information will be helpful as you develop your fundraising strategies.
The Development Staff: The development staff is responsible for carrying out the day-to-day operations of the fundraising department. They can be a valuable resource for you as you transition into your new role. Schedule a meeting with each member of the development staff so that you can learn about their backgrounds and areas of expertise. This will help you determine who to turn to with specific questions in the future. You should also ask about their fundraising strategies and how they have been successful in major gifts fundraising specifically.
The Board of Directors: The board of directors is responsible for setting organizational strategy and policy. They can be a valuable sounding board for your ideas and can provide insight into what has worked (and not worked) in the past. Schedule a meeting with each member of the board so that you can introduce yourself and learn about their interests and areas of expertise. Ask about their involvement with the organization and how they became involved in major gifts giving.
Days 21-30: Get to Know Your Organization
A new major gifts officer (MGO) has a lot to learn about their organization. They must quickly absorb the organization’s history, culture, values, and goals while also figuring out how the fundraising operation works and what kind of support it needs from the MGO. In short, the MGO must be able to answer any donor’s questions about the organization knowledgeably and confidently. Here are four ways that new MGOs can learn about their organizations:
1. Read the annual report. The annual report is a great way for new MGOs to learn about an organization’s recent accomplishments and future plans. It can also give them a sense of the organization’s overall tone of voice: approach to fundraising.
2. Immerse yourself in the organization’s history. One of the best ways to learn about your organization is to immerse yourself in its history. This means reading old annual reports, looking through archived materials, and talking to long-time employees or volunteers. Not only will this give you a better understanding of where your organization has come from, but it will also give you some insight into the culture and values that have made it what it is today. This is important information to have when you’re working on building relationships with donors.
3. Read everything you can get your hands on. In addition to talking to people, it’s also important that you read everything you can get your hands on. This includes things like the website (of course), but also anything else that’s been written about your organization – press releases, news articles, blog posts, etc. This will help you understand how your organization is perceived by the public and what kind of messaging resonates with different audiences.
4. Meet with program staff. If you’re not already familiar with the organization’s programs, meeting with program staff is a great way to learn more about what they do on a day-to-day basis and how they help further the organization’s mission. This will give you some talking points when you’re trying to engage potential donors who may be interested in supporting specific programs.
Days 31-40: Familiarize Yourself with Your Caseload
As a new major gifts officer for a nonprofit, it is important to learn about your donors. This information can help you better understand their motivations for giving and how best to steward them. Furthermore, understanding your donors can also help you identify potential new major donors. There are a few key ways to learn about your donors:
1. Get to know your constituents. One of the most important parts of your job as a major gifts officer is building relationships with potential donors. And that starts with getting to know them. Spend some time learning about their background, their interests, and their giving history (if they have one). The better you understand your constituents, the better equipped you’ll be to solicit them successfully.
2. Develop a portfolio of prospects. Once you’ve identified your major donors, it’s time to start developing a portfolio of prospects. Identify individuals who have the potential to become major donors and start building relationships with them. Use market research techniques to identify potential donor pools and cultivate relationships with individuals within those pools.
3. Develop a cultivation plan. Once you’ve identified your key constituents, it’s time to start cultivating relationships with them. This process can take months (or even years), so it’s important to have a plan in place. Begin by reaching out and arranging face-to-face meetings so you can get to know them better. Then, keep the lines of communication open by staying in touch on a regular basis—through phone calls, emails, handwritten notes, etc. The goal is to cultivate a relationship of mutual respect and trust so that when you do make your ask, they’ll be more likely to say yes.
The key to this period is to also identify the next step necessary for each donor. This might include:
- A phone call
- A hand written note card
- A personal visit
Understanding where donors are at in their journey will help you cultivate your donor file.
Days 40-60: Reach Out to Donors
The next step in your major gifts officer 90 day plan is to reach out to potential donors. But for a new major gifts officer, this can be a daunting task. How can you build relationships with potential donors when you’re just starting out? Here are four tips:
1. Do your research. Before you even pick up the phone, you need to know who you’re calling. Learn as much as you can about the potential donor: their background, their involvement with the organization, their giving history. The more you know, the easier it will be to connect with them.
2. Start with a warm introduction. If you have a mutual contact, use that to your advantage. Ask for an introduction or see if there’s a way to work their name into the conversation. A personal connection will make it more likely that the potential donor will want to hear what you have to say.
3. Make it about them, not about you. This is true of all fundraising, but it’s especially important when you’re asking someone for a major gift. Donors want to know that their money is going to make a difference; they don’t want to just hear about how great your organization is. So focus on what the donor can accomplish by giving to your organization rather than on what your organization can accomplish with their money.
4. Be persistent but not pushy. It’s important to follow up after your initial contact, but you don’t want to come across as pushy or sales-y. Remember that you’re trying to build a relationship, not close a deal. So check in periodically and see how things are going without being too overbearing.
You’ve already created a plan for each of the donors in your caseload. Start with the ones that need contact first and reach out to them via their preferred method.
Days 60-75: Evaluation
As you continue meeting with donors, take some time to evaluate how your progress is going. The first 90 days on the job are critical for any fundraiser, but especially for a major gifts officer (MGO). They are responsible for meeting face-to-face with potential donors, assessing their interest and ability to give, and then asking them for a major gift. The successful MGO will quickly develop relationships of trust with their potential donors and cultivate these relationships over time. Here are four ways an MGO can evaluate their performance in the first 90 days:
1. Face-to-Face Meetings Held: The MGO should aim to meet with potential donors face-to-face at least once a week in the first 90 days. This allows them to build rapport and trust, which is essential for successfully asking for a major gift. Meeting potential donors in person also allows the MGO to get a better sense of their interests and giving capacity. While it may not always be possible to meet in person, virtual meetings (via video call) can be just as effective.
2. Phone Calls Made/Received: In addition to meeting potential donors in person, the MGO should also touch base with donors via phone for the past couple of weeks. These phone calls help to keep the relationship alive between meetings and allow the MGO to provide updates on the organization’s latest initiatives. These calls should be focused and goal-oriented; the MGO should have a specific purpose for each call before making it.
3. Learning the People and the Organization: The new Major Gifts Officer spend quality time meeting with the team and learning about the organization. At this point, the new MGO should be able to articulately explain the mission of the organization and grasp a few campaigns and projects that they can use to propose to major donors.
4. New Donor Prospects Added to Portfolio: A key metric for an MGO is how many new donor prospects they add to their portfolio each month. This number will give them an idea of how successful they are at identifying and cultivating new prospects. Additionally, it will help them gauge whether or not they need to make changes to their cultivation strategy.
Days 75-90: Independent Donor Visits
As a fundraiser, your first 90 days are crucial to building relationships with your major donors. You have a limited amount of time to make a strong impression and lay the groundwork for a productive partnership. Here are some tips on how to maximize your major donor one-to-one meetings in the first 90 days. You’ll now ready to take on donor meetings independently.
1. Do your homework. Before meeting with a potential major donor, take some time to research their background and Giving History. What are their philanthropic interests? What organizations do they already support? Having this information will help you tailor your pitch and demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about their interests.
2. Set objectives for the meeting. What is the purpose of the meeting? Are you trying to secure a donation? Or are you simply trying to get to know the donor better? By setting clear objectives, you can ensure that the meeting is productive and focused.
3. Be prepared to answer tough questions. Potential major donors will want to know how their donation will be used and what impact it will have. They may also ask tough questions about your organization’s finances or management. Be prepared to answer these questions confidently and honestly.
4. Keep the conversation focused on the donor. The goal of the meeting is to build a relationship with the donor, so make sure that you focus on them and their interests. This means listening more than talking, and asking questions about their philanthropic goals and passions.
5. Follow up after the meeting. Within 24 hours of the meeting, send a thank-you note to the donor detailing what was discussed and next steps. This shows that you value their time and are committed to keeping them updated on your progress.
Building relationships is at the heart of successful fundraising—and that’s where major gifts officers come in. If you’re new to this role, use this guide as your roadmap to success. Remember to take things slow at first and get to know your constituents; develop a cultivation plan; make your ask confidently; and properly steward your donors after they make a gift. Do all of these things and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a top-notch fundraiser!