What Is a Major Gift?


Have you held the title of major gifts officer? I have. We have all had the experience of being at a party and meeting people for the first time.

Of course, generally, our jobs come up as a topic as conversation. The title of major gift officer often causes a pause. You can see the other person thinking to themselves, “major gift officer – hmm, is this person going to ask me for money?” Then, they blurt out “isn’t it hard to constantly be asking people for money?”

That’s when I respond, “do you have three minutes? I will tell you what I really do.”

I’m a Transformation Officer.

My job is to create transformation in people, in mission driven organizations or both. Here is how I do it. First, I seek out people who care about the mission of my organization. This is easy because there are so many people who already support my organization with their time and their money. Then, I reach out to them and thank them. After that, I reach out again and ask what is most meaningful to them? I listen.

That’s when I hear the beginning of their story of personal transformation. I hear their challenges. Finances, children, jobs, possessions, uncertainty, and illness often come up as obstacles to personal transformation. Then, I ask about the charities they support. That’s when I hear opportunity for transformation. After listening to their thoughts and feelings about what’s meaningful, I ask this question:

What If You Could Make a Transformational Gift?

Nine times out of ten, the person will respond, “how?” That’s where gift planning comes into the conversation. Ask, “What if you can show ways to…”

  • make a gift that will transform the charity but costs nothing now?
  • leave assets to children and still have something left over for charity?
  • make a gift that provides cash flow?
  • establish a gift that you can change anytime that you need to?
  • earn meaning out of that personal property you don’t need anymore?
  • explore ways of making gifts from your retirement plans?

“Okay. I would like to learn more.” When I hear that, I know that the transformation has begun. This person is on their path to seeing themselves as someone who makes a difference, maybe even a philanthropist. Then, it’s my responsibility to make sure that this gift will also be transformative for them and the charity.

My job as major gift officer, or as I prefer chief transformation officer, is to align the donor’s vision and resources with my organization’s mission. It’s a job of major importance. A major gift is any gift that transforms person or the mission driven organization they care about.

After I have explained my job, I reply, “thank you for asking me about my important work and letting me explain what a major gift officer does for society.”

Camilyn K. Leone, Esq.

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