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September 10, 2014

What it Really Takes to be a Major Gifts Officer

4266619389_dc39fa3d9c_zIf you want to be a successful major gifts officer, it helps if you’re intuitive, well read, a good listener, and an even better closer. But that’s not all. There are other skills you might need if you’re to make it in this field. Like gardening.

Gardening? That’s right. The nature of major gifts fundraising is you get to visit with people in their own environments and they often pull you in to their lives in unexpected ways.

Leslie once called upon a female donor who was busy in the garden and roped her into a few hours of weeding. Was getting her fingers dirty worth the gift? Well, if you think it’s only about the gift, you’re probably not cut out for this work.

Fundraising is about people and people can put you in the craziest situations. Leslie and I were laughing today about some of the more ridiculous circumstances we’ve found ourselves in during major gifts visits.

Here are some of the roles we’ve found ourselves playing:

The Recycling Expert: I once visited with a multi-millionaire who enlisted my help sorting and taking out her recycling for the week. She was quite elderly and very confused about what went where. I was young and happy to help!

Brave (but really fearful) Flyer: This is a longer story than I care to repeat here, but I flew to Cincinnati in an ice storm in a donor’s private jet. I didn’t know beforehand that his 19-year-old son was the pilot. Suffice it to say that the plane slid off the runway during the landing. I’m here to tell the tale, so it wasn’t as tragic as it sounds, but it was crazy!

Enthusiastic Gun Admirer: Poor Leslie, a pacifist through and through, was invited to admire a donor’s extensive gun collection. It’s the only time in her life she’s held a gun and certainly the last!

Class Clown: A dear fundraising friend of ours once facilitated a meeting with a gathering of women in a private home. Seated in a circle of chairs, our friend’s chair actually broke. She found herself on her back, legs in the air, trying to regain her dignity along with an upright position.

Polite Ignorer: Perhaps the most uncomfortable call I ever made involved a long-married couple who displayed the most incredible disdain for one another. He actually referred to her as “Ms. Stupid” several times during the conversation! I was happy to get out of that house asap!

Dog Lover: This is probably the most important attribute you need as a major gifts officer. I can’t tell you how many dogs have licked my toes, shed on my coat, or yapped around my ankles during a donor call.

In the end, it all makes for fun stories and fond memories. A great major gifts officer has a deep appreciation for people’s quirks and personalities. You’ve got to be able to go along for the ride and be thankful you’re not stuck behind a desk.

We’d love to hear your major gifts stories. Send them along!

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