“We need to hire a major gift officer,” the manager said. “I have all these lists of what makes for a good one, but how can I know what’s most important?”
I’ve had the same thought myself.  In fact, over the years of doing this work, I have written many lists that describe the ideal MGO.  One such list has over 20 characteristics, which made one client, upon reading the list, say,  “Who are we hiring here, God?”
This served to put me on the hunt for a shorter list – one that could capture all the attributes on my lists in a few simple points.  And I think I found it in the writings of Denny Rydberg, the President of Young Life, a group that works with young people around the world.  Here’s his list of the four characteristics of a successful major gift fundraiser:

  1. A Good Listener
  2. Positive
  3. Enthusiastic
  4. Persistent

When I first read this list I thought it was kind of light and didn’t do the job of identifying all that was needed in an MGO’s working style.  Then, as I continued to examine the list, I found a great deal of depth in each characteristic.  Let me show you what I mean.

  1. A Good Listener – One of the key requirements of an effective MGO is that he knows how to relate to donors.  This relating bit is not about manipulation or influence.  It is truly about listening and hearing, which is why the word “good” is key in describing the listener.  Many of the MGOs our team meets are mostly about getting the gift rather than listening, which is a short path to disaster.  They are hurrying the donor toward a transaction vs. truly listening.  When you have a heart and mind to listen to your donor your energy changes from getting to giving.  And when you are in this giving mode, the donor will relax and trust you, allowing the real conversation to begin.  This real conversation will take you into the donor’s world, into what he or she cares about, the exact place you want to be.  And this place has no other entrance but an authentic listening ear.
  2. Positive – The Nike tagline, “Just Do It,” expresses very succinctly the energetic outlook that pervades someone who dares to be positive.  Nowhere in these words do you find any of the negatives we all face in the day to day.  Words like “no” or “you can’t” or “it won’t work” or “what a stupid idea,” etc.  The successful and effective MGO is about possibility.  He has a “can do” spirit about him.  He is comfortable to be around.  And when he leaves, the donor always says, “It was so good to have MGO (name) here!”  Remember, the donor wants to solve problems and address need through her giving.  And problems and need are, by their very nature, negative.  But an effective MGO, in this situation, will acknowledge the need and then set about taking care of it.  This approach brings a positive dynamic into the conversation.
  3. Enthusiastic – Enthusiastic and upbeat people are easy to be around.  I have two of them who are close to me – my business partner, Jeff, and my wife.  These people always look on the bright side of life. They celebrate all the wonderful, little things that make life great.  Just being around them brings joy and celebration.  The effective MGO is this kind of person, spreading excitement, possibility and joy everywhere he or she goes, and the donor is affected by this.  When enthusiastic MGOs leave their presence, the donors are left with a certain knowledge that the MGO’s organization is the greatest, that the solution to the need they spoke of is going to do the job, that the gift that is given will be stewarded, and that all shall be well.  It is amazing to see this in action.  Enthusiasm is infectious!
  4. Persistent – When you first read this word you may have a negative reaction. You may be associating it with all those sales people or colleagues and friends in your circle of influence who irritate you with their constant badgering. But I am not talking about that type of behavior here.  I am talking about that steady and deep movement forward toward a solution that cannot be bypassed, moved or altered by the whims and deviations of time and obstacles.  This kind of persistence brings confidence, safety and security because it is solid and sure.  It does not waver or vacillate like so many other things in life.  An effective and successful MGO works with each of the donors on the MGO’s caseload in a steady, careful and dependable way.  Have you ever noticed how people who are wishy-washy can make you uncomfortable and unsure?  It’s true.  Their constant stopping and starting can breed insecurity about what they are doing and what they want.  Sometimes they promise something and then don’t deliver on it.  Or yesterday’s opinion or stated course of action is different than today’s.  The persistent MGO stays on course and sticks with the agenda.

As you are getting ready to vet that list of resumes for the MGO you want to hire, consider what I have said here.  Of course, your ideal candidate must align to the mission of your organization and have a solid employment track record that you can verify.  And, they must be computer literate and good communicators, etc.  These are all things you already know.  But if they also have the four characteristics I have spoken about here, you are well on your way toward hiring a colleague who will be successful.