Recruiting a Major Gifts Executive

There are two KEY roles for a Major Gifts Executive:

1. Prospecting

2. Managing Major Donors who are already qualified

Of course there are many additional tasks related to these two core functions.  These include the ability to write succinctly, to discern, to listen, to present the case(one to one), to thank creatively, to relate well with Directors and Board members.

However these two key tasks create a dilemma for recruiters.

The first requires a crisp sales skill with persuasion, the second a nurturing, managing skill with attention to detail.

A salesman will love the chase and never give up until the donor is courted and brought into the fold.  However, once qualified and a 12 month plan in place, the salesman loses interest and is ready to chase the next ‘difficult to get hold of’ philanthropist’.   The salesman is much needed in a new team for new major donors.

I have mentored many MGE’s over the years and nurturers often struggle with prospecting.   To pick up the phone and contact a business man/woman who is prickly and needs persuasion often scares nurturers and they tend to procrastinate.

However the nurturer loves to maintain a relationship and will care deeply for the donor and their family and will do everything they can to keep the relationship warm and flowing.  A much needed skill.

Both are ‘people – people’.  Both require integrity and determination.  However sometimes it can be hard to recruit the right person.

It is therefore important to decide which of these two key skills is required for the programme and where you are as an organisation.  If the new person is taking over a caseload of nurtured major donors then recruit a ‘manager/nurturer of people’.  If you need your MGE to pioneer a new programme and recruit new philanthropists to your charity then look for salesmanship.

Salesmanship means not giving up, a love of the telephone, belief, an excitement about the chase.

Of course an MGE needs both but the key is where the weighting of their skill lies.

I have held the view for quite some time that they are different skills.   There is a case for using MGE’s with salesmanship to recruit new major donors.  It could then perhaps be possible to handover a relationship to an MGE with nurturing skills but still have some contact with the prospect such as when visiting the office or attending small lunches or dinners, thank you events or Skype calls.

I can hear the objections – handover is not easy;   the prospect will object; it will cause confusion; this will be impossible to manage………………..

However I would say give it some thought.  Perhaps it is time to apply some radical thinking.   Working in pairs to visit a potential philanthropist can often be good.   In my experience the nurturer will definitely look after them more appropriately.  But often we are missing the edge that a salesman/woman can bring.

I also wouldn’t recommend a donor ever having contact with only one person in the organisation.  They need to engage with the wider team and your organisation’s leadership.

Let me know your thoughts…………………………..


Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

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