I’ve been privileged to coach and manage a number of great MGOs. I’ve also coached and managed MGOs that were just okay… and a few that were really bad. I’ve been fascinated by trying to understand why some are so good and others just don’t have it. And by the way, the “just okay” and “bad” MGOs are NOT bad people at all. They just don’t possess what it takes to be great at major gift fundraising. And that’s okay. Everyone is on a journey to discover their gifts.
I recently came across an article in Entrepreneur magazine that really helped me understand what sets great salespeople (and MGOs in our case) apart from the others. Jason Wesbecher writes that he’s found great salespeople to have five characteristics that distinguish them from all other salespeople. These apply directly to major gift officers, too.

  1. Achievers — Great major gift officers are achievement-oriented. They take great pride in making and exceeding goals. They love the thrill of matching a donor with a need and making a gift happen. If you give them a goal, they want to hit that target and make another.
  2. Reality distortion field — Exceptional major gift officers don’t get flustered. They have a Zen-like ability to focus on the specific task at hand while exuding an aura of calm confidence. “Reality distortion field” was a term that the Apple development team used to describe Steve Jobs’ charisma. Great MGOs have a similar quality.
  3. Control freaks — The best salespeople obsess over every detail of a presentation to a donor. They practice. They do dress rehearsals. At 5:30am they are at the FedEx Office to make sure the proposal is right. Great MGOs do not like surprises, and they focus on every detail of moves management.
  4. Fiercely loyal — The best MGOs are intensely loyal to their donors and are problem solvers. If things go awry somewhere in the process of soliciting a gift, they work tirelessly to fix the situation. The donor is their sole focus. Everything is about bringing donors joy.
  5. Paranoid — MGOs are optimists. They have to be, to survive the emotional rollercoaster of tremendous highs and deep lows. But that optimism is often balanced by a healthy dose of paranoia. The best MGOs constantly ask themselves “how could this go wrong?” And they are always trying to figure out what they would do if it were to go wrong.

Wesbecher goes on to say, “Mental toughness is half the battle. If you have what it takes to be told “no” on 50 consecutive calls so you can get a yes on the 51st call, then you are on a path to an exceptional career in sales [major gifts].”
The key is to understand if you possess these abilities. Yes, I believe you are born with some of these qualities innately within you, but you can also learn them. In other words, you can get training, and you can practice these traits until they become part of how you do your work.
As a major gift officer, what area do you need to keep working on to become extraordinary?
PS — For more on this topic, download our free white paper, “Six Secrets to Becoming an Extraordinary Major Gift Officer.”