Becoming a Major Gifts Officer

from The Weekend Briefing for November 4, 2018

The party was over.  Pizza, stories and a champagne toast celebrated the end of a successful campaign.  The president stopped in to thank the team, as did their wonderful campaign co-chairs.  Each fundraiser thought the same thing, “We were never going to let you down.”

Now everyone was gone.  Clare had stayed behind to clean up.  She always did the “above and beyond.”  A new major gifts officer, Clare couldn’t believe how lucky she was to get this chance and to be on this team.  She looked for every opportunity to help.  She was hired as a development assistant four years ago, at the beginning of the campaign and was promoted often.  Clare was named a major gifts officer when the campaign “went public.”  She was proud of the gifts she added to the campaign total.

Right now empty cups and dirty paper plates had her attention.  Clare looked up.  The only other person tidying the room was Anita, their VP.  Clare wasn’t surprised.  This was classic Anita.  Not seeking the limelight, always doing for others.  A leader they would have taken a bullet for.

Anita was on the other side of the room.  She looked up and smiled.  As she did, Clare whispered, “Thank you.”

Her voice was so soft, Anita could barely make out what she was saying.


“Thank you.”

Anita raised her eyebrows and smiled in surprise.  “Well, gosh, you’re welcome!  But for what?”

“For believing in me.  No one has before, really.”  Clare meant what she said.

Anita walked over to her.  “That’s hard to imagine.  You’re a very talented fundraiser.  I always thought it was our good fortune to find you.”

Clare shook her head.  “Anita, that’s what I should be saying.  How blessed I am to be here. 

“Can I ask you a question?  I was hired to be a junior staffer for the campaign.  This shot, to be a major gifts officer.  Why?”

Her vice president smiled.  “You really want to know?  Okay, sit down.  I’ll tell you.”

They pulled up chairs together in the empty room.  The cleanup was forgotten.  Clare’s heart was pounding.  This was like seeing the teacher’s edition of the math book, with all the answers!

Anita began.  “Really, Clare, it’s not that complicated.  My job is to find the best players for the team.  When someone makes the team and I see promise in them, a fire in their belly, it’s my job to help them grow.

“Remember your first promotion?  We moved you after three months to alumni relations.  That to me is the proving ground.  Long hours, multiple projects and working with others.  Most of all it’s a chance to connect with donors.  Can you be comfortable with them?   Can you be respectful, but be yourself at the same time? 

“You were there, what, 18 months or so?”

Clare nodded.  She was listening more intently than she ever had in her life.

“Well, we were watching.  Were you on time for work every day?  Did you gladly stay late and work weekends when we needed you?  We were looking to see if you ‘got it.’

“Do you remember what Jerry Panas said are the most important qualities for a fundraiser?”

Somehow Clare did.  “I think he said enthusiasm, energy, and empathy.  That is, being a good listener.”

Anita nodded.  “That’s right.  He said one other quality was important, too.”

Clare grinned at her teacher.  “Integrity.”

Anita reached out with a fist-bump.  “Exactly!  While you were working your tail off, we were paying attention.  And we saw those qualities in you.

“Clare, don’t get me wrong, I am all for experience.  Especially when that experience is gained here.  But a very wise man told me long ago that to develop great major gifts officers you have to ‘grow your own.’

“That’s what we try to do.  Do we miss once in a while?  Sure, that happens, but less often than you think.  We believe very strongly that the foundation of great fundraisers are those transferable skill sets you can’t teach.

“Does the person want to be out making visits?  Can they ask?  Do they understand how to build relationships?  How to make the donor feel appreciated?  And, the things Panas wrote about.

“A person either has that DNA or they don’t.  You do.  We moved you up to special annual gifts so you could be out and asking.  You took to it like a duck to water.  We knew you would. 

“Right at the time the campaign went public we gave you a portfolio and told you to ‘let ‘er rip’!

“But,” Anita added, “we did one other thing.  We made sure you had a safety net.”

Clare looked confused.

“You know how Ellen would stop in to see you every so often and ask how it was going?”

Clare said, “Sure, she did it all the time.  I thought she was just being nice.”

“Well, that too, but she also had your back.  If you were in a tough spot with a prospect you had someone to talk with about it.  You weren’t going to come to me and tell me you didn’t know what to do, were you?”

Clare nodded.  “That’s for sure.  Wow.  I never knew.”

“Good.  It was a way to support you without being a crutch.  The reason you became a good major gifts officer is because you made lots of visits and lots of asks and as you did, your confidence grew. 

“Quiet confidence.  You have it now.  The most important thing of all.”

Right then Ellen and Paul, their grant writer, walked into the room. 

“Hey, what are you two doing here all by yourselves,” Ellen grinned.  “Planning the next campaign?”

Clare got up, walked over to Ellen and hugged her.  No words were needed.

As Anita and Ellen left the room, Anita turned to look at Clare one last time.  Their eyes met, and Clare put her hand over her heart.

Anita smiled and gave a thumb’s-up.

Now Paul and Clare were alone in the room.  Paul asked, “What was all that about?”

She answered,


Have a good week, my friends.