How To Excel in Major Gifts

Eagle Flying Depicting Major Gifts

Major Gifts Officer (MGO) careers are a hot pick for anyone looking to actively work with non-profits. This role allows you to make an impact, connect with people, and aid in the financial longevity of a cause that you believe in. This is an exceptionally hands-on, people-facing career that can be both rewarding and challenging at the same time.

While working with non-profits is a dream job to some, not everyone can slide into this role and succeed. In order to be wildly successful in this career, there are some key skills to master. This is a position that is not for the faint of heart. It requires you to be analytical, charismatic, and resilient. It is necessary to be a self-starter who is willing to lay a solid foundation and really put yourself out there in terms of making connections and networking.

If you want to excel in major gifts, remaining ahead of the curve in industry best practices and understanding that you are responsible for your own professional development is vital. There are several steps you can take to ensure that you continue to hit donation targets in your organization.

Call On Your Inner Researcher

Major gift officers are excellent researchers. (See Major Gifts: the Complete Guide) From researching potential donors to comparing previous donor data, those in this position are highly analytic. Being able to pinpoint which donors to focus on is a fundamental skill in this field, so combining research skills with sharp instinct makes for the most success.

Interpreting statistics and being able to strategize and implement a forward-thinking plan are essential to excel in major gifts. Analyzing prospect data to determine philanthropic behavior, giving prospective donors an RFM score, and identifying wealth markers are all part of meeting your donation targets.

When you complete comprehensive research, you are laying the groundwork for successful future interactions. Knowing which events to plan, deciding on a monetary amount to ask for, and even choosing the appropriate time to approach an ask is all dependent on your background work. Being able to excel in major gifts includes having all of your ducks in a row before you approach prospects.

Craft a Captivating Story

Being able to tell a story is vital for a professional fundraiser. Converting prospects into donors hinges on your ability to make them feel authentically connected with your cause. Connecting with past experience and showing prospects how their contributions will help advance your non-profit is a foundation on which you can build a long-term relationship.

When it comes down to it, to excel in major gifts (and even planned gifts) depends highly on marketing. Storytelling (and using donor stories) as a method of non-profit fundraising marketing strategy has boundless potential. Being able to sell donors on your mission depends entirely on your ability to help them have an emotional reaction to the population you serve. Learning how to use images, videos, and words that craft an idea and feeling is a fundamental art in the non-profit industry and they all elicit an emotional bond in the power of a good donor story.

Donors are looking to feel satisfaction and recognize the impact of their contributions. Striking the right chord with potential donors will ultimately rest on the picture they create in their minds. Persuading your prospects through storytelling is a way to fast-track your donations. To excel in major gifts, it is essential that you learn this skill quickly. A place to begin is to learn asking the right questions, because asking a quality question will get you’re an incredible quality answer.

Dig Deep for Charisma

Interpersonal skills are highly required for this type of role (like learning the right questions to ask). You cannot excel in major gifts without being able to make valuable connections. Although the majority of your networking will be within your donor pool, it is also important to form bonds with other organizations and professionals in your field.

Putting yourself out there and making a name for yourself can be highly beneficial to your career. As you make yourself known, you are more likely to form relationships with a wider pool of donors. If you make connections with colleagues, you may be lucky enough to find yourself a mentor to help you excel in major gifts. Networking is a fundamental element of the job.

Remaining resilient in the face of rejection is an indispensable skill in the non-profit world. Even with your background research and storytelling abilities, sometimes an ask will not go as planned. If you get rejected, it is important that you learn not to take it personally, shrug it off, and go back to the data. Perhaps the lead was not as strong as you thought, or maybe they are considering other options. Those who excel in major gifts are great at bouncing back when things don’t go their way.

One easy way to form solid connections with the most experienced people in your field is to engage in workshops or training in areas that you are interested in. There is a large network of experienced fundraisers who excel in major gifts. They regularly offer their advice in the form of live webinars or online courses. Forming your own support network of like-minded professionals can help you grow your career exponentially.

Continue Professional Development

Continuing to remain teachable in your field is a hallmark of excelling in fundraising. As society evolves, so does your role as a fundraiser. While there are some skills that have staying power, the willingness to educate yourself on better practices and techniques can help you excel in major gifts.

As we have seen over the last few years, technology is changing and, with it, the way we do business. Keeping up with technology, associating with right technology firms, including new video conferencing apps and social media platforms ensures you can continue to meet your prospects where they are. Learning new methods of connecting with young philanthropists is key to preparing for the future of your organization. Striking the right message with the right person is sometimes all you need to open a whole new pool of prospects.

Independently taking on professional development can help you keep ahead of the pack. Keeping up to date with articles, research, books, and taking advantage of available online training may help you refine the tools you need to better connect with prospects and hit your donation targets.

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Excel in Major Gifts — Remain Remarkable

While fundraising is a rewarding career, there is a steep learning curve for people first entering the industry. It takes a certain skill set to excel in major gifts, most of which come from hands-on work experience. Excellent research, interpersonal communication skills and learning serious goal setting skills are essential. Having a keen eye for marketing and making authentic connections with prospects is imperative. Fundraisers are in the business of relationships.

Due to the unique nature of this career path, a willingness to advance your professional education is paramount. Those who take an interest in professional development and take advantage of workshops and training are those that remain agile in the field. As we are entering a time of generational wealth transfer, brushing up on your skills now will prepare you and your organization for the decade to come.

Forming relationships with those experienced in the role is an excellent way to receive mentorship, which can help you quickly build rapport with donors. Sometimes executive directors are not always experienced in the major gifts field themselves, so they let officers handle the fundraising in an organization. Since this is such a hands-on field, seeking knowledge and advice from the best is always in your best professional interest.

Here at, we are experienced fundraising professionals. We understand the importance of taking advantage of learning opportunities in this field. We have developed a CFRE-approved interactive learning experience to help you excel in major gifts. It includes 25 paced questions and it is crafted for beginners and seasoned pros alike.

Ready to boost your Major Gift IQ? Jump into our training (90% recommended!) to take the first step in becoming a recognized major gifts officer (and boosting your career) in your non-profit community.

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