Recruiting your staff for your major gifts program is critical, to say the least. Hopefully gone forever is the image of the slick presenter who could "sell" mom and pop on giving away the farm.

Successful major giving is based on real relationships, with the major gift officer still knowing what their place and purpose really is, because the donor certainly does.  Consider these traits to look for, and tips for hiring, when you select people who will closely carry the image of your organization.

1. Integrity, integrity, integrity. Look for this first when hiring.  Major gift officers will need to be people who donors highly value and trust to help them accomplish their giving goals. Without trust, this is going nowhere.

2. Relationship skills.  This one is a little hard to qualify in a candidate if you don't know them, but you must find out if they are genuine relationship people. Do they love people and are they also skilled at helping guide them to a decision? Or do they just view people as prospects toward goals? Or, worst of all, are they afraid to ask for a gift?

3. Communication skills are obviously very important, but we're looking for a particular communication skill set here, and that's the interpersonal skill set, which is different from mass audience presentation skills and even small group presentation skills. While some people can speak well to all three audiences, they are the rare person.  Look for people who are genuine and respected for who they are and they will represent you well.

4. Organizational skills are very important to the management of the process.  Notes, remembering details that are important to donors, and lots of preparation before a call are important things that the gift officer will need to juggle.

When planning your major gift program, realize that it will take some time.  Starting with the right foundation will put you miles ahead of organizations who started quickly and now have a revolving door of personnel for various reasons.  Consider these basic steps:

1. One stage of the interview process should include having candidates in a social setting. That's the time to find out how they conduct themselves with manners in the midst of clanking plates and spilled water.  If they don't pass this test with you, they certainly won't with your most cherished supporters.

2. Role play during the interview.  This one makes everyone a little uncomfortable, including the interviewer at times, but it's worth the effort.  A correctly designed role play will give you some idea of how candidates think on their feet, and you can laugh together after it's over.

3. You must commit to equip them.  Great tools will help a great fund officer do great things. Average tools will slow a great fund raiser's success. Whether it's a white paper to begin a discussion or a polished video that tells your story and sets up the officer to continue the conversation, you must make that commitment as an organization. Ongoing training will also neeed to be part of your commitment.

4. You must commit to pay them well. Do I really need to explain this one?  Okay I will...a little and bluntly. Major donors will not relate well to people who are far below their station.

5. You must have a system or the gift officer's effectiveness will be limited.  A moves management concept integrated with realistic, but progressing goals, and a way to track activities toward those goals, is the system that will guide you to the future or leave you wondering what was said to whom and when, and when in the world will we ever get some money in here.

These are some basic ideas to get you started on that all-important road that will make the greatest financial difference for your organization for the long haul.

AuthorCraig Smith