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Interviewing Top-Performing Major Gifts Officers for Maximum Impact


In the realm of philanthropy, particularly within major gifts programs, the stakes are high. The individuals organizations bring onto their teams carry the weighty responsibility of not just meeting fund development goals, but of fostering a culture of giving that can significantly impact their communities. The process of hiring these pivotal figures is fraught with challenges, including significant concerns about turnover and the high costs of onboarding new staff. These challenges underscore the importance of asking the right questions during interviews to ensure organizations select individuals who are not only highly capable but deeply committed to making a meaningful impact.


These challenges underscore the importance of asking the right questions during interviews to ensure organizations select individuals who are not only highly capable but deeply committed to making a meaningful impact.

The high turnover rate of major gifts officers can profoundly impact philanthropic programs, disrupting the momentum of fund development efforts and delaying the implementation of strategic initiatives essential for fostering a culture of philanthropy within the organization and broader community. This is particularly concerning given that culture change within an organization is a slow process, often taking several years to fully realize. The persistent narrative about the short tenure of major gifts officers only exacerbates the challenge, underscoring the need for a thoughtful and strategic hiring approach that focuses on long-term engagement and impact.


To navigate these challenges, it is essential to delve deeper during the interview process. Moving beyond asking standard human resource questions and assessing candidates’ resumes to identifying the “it” factor signifies a candidate’s potential to not only thrive in a major gifts role but to become a transformative force within the organization and the community it serves.


Interview questions should probe the candidate’s motivation for working in philanthropy, their understanding of the transformative power of major gifts and their ability to build meaningful partnerships with stakeholders. For example, inquiring about the most meaningful gift a candidate has facilitated can reveal whether they are driven by the impact of their work or the monetary value of the gifts they secure.


Additionally, delving into candidates’ experiences navigating challenges in previous roles offers insight into their problem-solving abilities, resilience and capacity to maintain positive donor relationships amid adversity. Such qualities are vital for sustaining long-term donor connections, crucial for major gifts program success. Furthermore, examining candidates’ experiences and strategies for prospect discovery illuminates their ability to innovate and tailor approaches to the organization and its community. This adaptability is especially crucial in today’s evolving fund development landscape.


...examining candidates’ experiences and strategies for prospect discovery illuminates their ability to innovate and tailor approaches to the organization and its community.

To ensure your organization hires high-impact philanthropy officers, consider the following tips during the interview process:


  1. View the philanthropy officer as a key role within the major gifts program, rather than merely a major gift officer. This role connects the organization’s priorities with prospects and donors in the community.

  2. Ask candidates about their motivation for working in non-profits or health care to determine if they have a genuine passion for the organization’s mission.

  3. Inquire about the most meaningful gift they have closed and the impact it had to reveal where their focus lies.

  4. Explore how they work with partners in philanthropy and their approach to building partnerships with key stakeholders. Philanthropy officers working with allies is key to obtaining transformative gifts.

  5. Discuss their thoughts on shared credit for closed gifts to gauge their collaborative mindset.

  6. Inquire about their experience with accountability and database management to understand their approach to organizational expectations.

  7. Ask about a challenging donor or prospect situation they have encountered and how they addressed it to assess their problem-solving skills.

  8. Inquire about their strategies for moving prospects along in the engagement process and any creative actions they have taken.

  9. Discuss the size of portfolios they have managed in the past and the challenges they faced with each portfolio type or style.

  10. Ask about their experience with discovery and identification of prospects to understand their approach to prospecting within their network and community, beyond the names assigned to them.

 

By following these tips and asking the right questions, your organization can hire top-performing major gifts officers who will drive success in your philanthropy program. By focusing on these deeper inquiries, your organization can hire individuals who will not only meet fund development goals, but who will also play a pivotal role in cultivating a culture of philanthropy that can transform your entire community for the better.


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About the Author: Heather Wiley Starankovic, CFRE, CAP, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant, with a dedication to supporting staff members and creating programs that keep talented and dedicated servant leaders within the field. She can be reached at Heather@AccordantHealth.com or through LinkedIn.

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