[Guest post by Aly Sterling]

Your major gift officer is one of your team’s core players. Without their skills and expertise, your fundraising efforts would languish and your relationships with key donors just wouldn’t be the same.

The ability to acquire major gifts is a difficult skill to learn, and not all fundraising officers are cut out to take on the role. In fact, major gift officers are among the nonprofit roles with the highest turnover each year simply because they require a unique mix of qualities.

Is your organization thinking of hiring a new major gift officer? In this article, we’ll review some of cornerstone qualities to look for in your next MGO, as well as what elements of the position often serve as challenge points.

Effective major gift officers should demonstrate:

  1. A core competency in the essentials of the job.
  2. An extensive understanding of the realities of nonprofit fundraising.
  3. A data-driven approach to major gifts fundraising.
  4. A personality well-suited to major gifts leadership.
  5. An alignment with the culture of your nonprofit.

Finding the perfect fit for your major gift officer position doesn’t have to be a struggle. Let’s dive into these key major gift officer qualities so your team can find the right individual for the job!

Not only does your major gift officer need to be an expert fundraiser, but they also need to master major donor cultivation and stewardship.

For many, their first thought about the role of a major gift officer is that they are responsible for simply identifying prospects and securing gifts. Not so! There’s a lot that must happen between those two milestones.

The ideal major gift officer will take on many of the following responsibilities:

  • Coordinate, strategize and direct your major gifts program.
  • Develop prospect lists of potential major donors from campaign to campaign.
  • Assist with setting standards for your nonprofit’s growth.
  • Serve as an ambassador for your nonprofit, promoting and soliciting major gifts.
  • Spearhead your planned giving program and other long-term cultivation projects.

Put simply, succeeding in the major gift officer role requires more than just generating promising prospect lists. Successful major gift officers create and implement proactive long-term strategies.

Ideally, your MGO is a key leader in your organization with the vision to see the big picture. If your nonprofit wants to reach (and exceed) its major gift fundraising goals, you’ll need an MGO who understands how their role relates to others and sees their efforts as more marathon than sprint. They will use their experience and perspective to help drive your overall fundraising plan.

For these reasons, your best bet when looking for a major gift officer is to choose an individual with a proven track record of success in all aspects of nonprofit fundraising. Additionally, those who have served in public-facing leadership roles also make excellent candidates.

Bonus tip! Excited to learn more? Head over to Aly Sterling Philanthropy to check out their major gift officer description to find out exactly what your team should look for in your next MGO.

Another important quality in your major gift officer is realism. All too often, nonprofit leaders fail when they are unable to overcome the basic challenges inherent in nonprofit fundraising.

This is because fundraising success can be dependent on external factors like the economic climate and community support. So, it’s important that your next MGO is able to set achievable, short-term goals while setting into motion ambitious, longer-term strategies.

A great way to weed out candidates is to ask them to assess the strengths of your current major gift fundraising strategy and make suggestions for improving your major giving program.

They might suggest changes like:

  • Restructuring your nonprofit’s CRM.
  • Opening your prospect lists to new demographics.
  • Revitalizing your stewardship strategies.
  • Setting more attainable long-term goals for capital campaigns.

Consider how candidates’ assessments reflects their attitudes toward major gift fundraising. Does it reveal that they take a level-headed approach to major giving? Or, are their plans too pie-in-the-sky to actually be implemented?

Remember: you know the realities of your nonprofit better than anyone else. What might work for another organization isn’t guaranteed to serve your team well. It’s also possible that MGO candidates you consider could be excellent officers at another organization, but not yours.

Some of the best tools in your major gift officer’s arsenal will be rooted in data. When evaluating candidates for your MGO position, assess how they incorporate data into their role.

Data should be a cornerstone of your nonprofit’s major gift fundraising strategy, and your major gift officer should lead the way with forward-thinking practices. Too often, nonprofits and MGOs alike fail to recognize that data is the key to successful major gift fundraising.

Without knowing where your strategy is succeeding and where it needs work, how can your team possibly develop a rich understanding of your major gift prospects?

Consider some of the following software your major gift officer might implement:

  • Prospect research software to generate lists of major giving leads.
  • Major gift calculators to determine how major giving fits into your fundraising goals.
  • Nonprofit marketing software to help build relationships with prospective major donors.
  • Constituent relationship management software to keep track of these relationships.

When leveraged together, these tools will all paint a comprehensive picture of the state of your major gift fundraising strategy. Your next major gift officer should show a propensity for using tools like these and an interest in developing a data-driven approach to major gift fundraising.

Bonus tip! Visit DonorSearch to learn how to incorporate prospect generation tools into your nonprofit’s strategy. Software like this will be crucial to the success of your next MGO!

As we discussed in the first section, your nonprofit’s major gift officer isn’t just your team member in charge of generating major giving leads; they’re also ambassadors for your organization and leaders among your staff.

However, one of the biggest mistakes that nonprofits make is not taking into account how well their MGO adapts to such an influential role. To truly succeed as a major gift officer, they need to have the right personality traits to take charge.

All too often, major gift officers struggle in their role simply because they aren’t suited to this rigorous area of nonprofit fundraising. Perhaps your nonprofit has experienced this dilemma with past MGOs!

To succeed in this difficult role, your major gift officer should be:

  • Highly personable, friendly and charming in order to connect with prospects.
  • A problem-solver who isn’t afraid to take on impressive challenges.
  • Extremely adaptable to changes in other aspects of your fundraising strategy.
  • A team player while balancing the right degree of self-motivation to take charge.

Above all, the major gift officer role is very unique in its demands. This means that any MGO your team chooses has to be ready to step up to the plate and not get discouraged when your team encounters challenges.

Another major challenge often faced by nonprofits is realizing that their major gift officer simply has a different attitude about fundraising, stewardship or advocacy than the rest of their team. When MGOs and their teams can’t align, that spells disaster for your fundraising goals.

Is there anyone on your team right now who has the potential to be an effective MGO? By promoting from within, you could mitigate the risk of bringing someone on who doesn’t mesh with your internal culture.

By selecting a major gift officer from your existing staff, you also have the benefit of already knowing the person and their skills, as well as how they approach nonprofit fundraising.

Likewise, your team should develop a comprehensive nonprofit succession plan to anticipate future transitions. By creating this plan, you can single out promising internal candidates early and train them before they actually step into the role.

On the other hand, not all skill sets translate well into the MGO role. You may have to look outside of the organization to find the qualities needed. And that’s ok because the right person will add leadership and skills that are missing in your organization — which is good for your donors, clients and staff.

This role should be fundraising-focused above all else. While your next MGO should understand all aspects of your nonprofit’s strategy, they should have the experience and know-how to drive major giving to meet the expectations set by your fundraising goals.

Finding a best-fit major gift officer can be demanding, and it’s important to get this selection right! With these qualities in mind, your team is ready to find the right MGO for your organization.


Aly Sterling set out nine years ago to change the world. Her mission – to help nonprofits execute their mission successfully. “I love being able to bring out the best in our nonprofit clients. The collaboration is what I wake up every day kind of excited about.”

She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute. Her workshops and keynote presentations have been featured at the meetings of the National School Foundation Association, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and a variety of foundations around the country.

Aly is an alumna of Leadership Toledo, a recipient of the “20 Under 40” award and a Women in Communications Crystal Award winner. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Toledo and is a fellowship graduate of the executive leadership program at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.

Today, in addition to managing her agency, Aly serves on the board of trustees for St. Ursula Academy and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. She is past president of the Northwest Ohio chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and has served on the boards of Leadership Toledo, David’s House and Advocating Opportunity, an organization formed to stop human trafficking.