capanddiploma 2014-Mar07
A colleague of ours recently wrote that someone had tweeted the following question: “What is the best way for a development officer to further his or her education? MBA? MA in PR?”
When asked what he wanted to do in his career, he responded, “I want 2 be an excellent major gift officer. I think an MBA may help with the financial info I would need.”
Getting an MBA to become a better MGO is an interesting idea and may be worth pursuing. This little exchange started me thinking about the whole subject of MGO training and development and what Jeff and I could offer through this blog as some insights into what might be most helpful.
The first thing to note about the person’s question is WHY he wanted to get the MBA. He wanted to be an excellent major gift officer and believed that perhaps an understanding of money and finances would help. I suppose it could help to some degree. But I don’t think gaining business experience or knowledge would be the great value-add that the person thinks it might be. Here’s why.
Jeff and I have said that fundraising in general, and major gifts in particular, is not about money. It involves money for sure, but really, when you get right down to what makes the whole thing work, it’s not about the money at all. As we have explained before, when an MGO can uncover what a donor wants to do and helps the donor actually do it, the money is simply a way to make that dream – that passion – happen. Money is the rail system the train rides on to take the donor to the destination she wants.
So, if that is true, then understanding finances and business principles may not add much value to the interaction, because the main driver behind the transaction is a desire to DO something. And understanding and fulfilling that desire is what is most needed.
As I have thought about this topic of education/development more, it occurs to me that there are three educational paths that would be helpful in furthering an MGO’s journey of knowledge acquisition:

  1. Marketing. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Note, especially, the words exchanging offerings, as they capture the essence of what marketing does. It is an offer that has value to the recipient, and money is exchanged for that offer. This is exactly what fundraising does. It gives the donors a value (doing something they care about) in exchange for money. So, studying marketing would be a good way to go.
  2. Sales. The definition of sales is, “a transaction between two parties where the buyer receives goods (tangible or intangible), services and/or assets in exchange for money.” Wiki Answers talks about the relationship of sales and marketing this way: “Marketing and sales always have been a close relationship, so close in fact that many have confused the two as being the same. Marketing is the method of bringing customers to your business as well as making others aware of your business, product, and brand. Sales is selling the product your company offers. If I could explain the relationship in the most basic of terms, I would use a Marine sniper as an example. Marketing would be the spotter while the sniper would be the sales.” Sorry about the gun analogy. In fundraising, it is much the same thing. Marketing watches the brand and the messaging and analyzes donor behavior, etc., whereas sales causes the transaction. Both are needed. When a client is looking for a new MGO to hire, Jeff and I often recommend looking for a person with high-end sales experience. By high-end we mean someone who can deal with complex transactions. The major gift transaction is a complex transaction – offering the donor a set of outcomes that will fulfill his passions in exchange for a donation. So, studying high-end sales would also be good.
  3. Psychology. The American Psychology Association defines psychology as, essentially, “the understanding of behavior.” I have always been fascinated with this subject matter. In fact, I was an early subscriber to Psychology Today way back in the 60’s – when I was in high school! Understanding behavior, and the motivations behind behavior, is key to being a good MGO because it is those underlying motivations that drive giving. So, anything that has to do with securing knowledge about human behavior, especially as related to buying services and products and donating, would be a worthwhile course to pursue.

So, to answer the question at the top of the post, “What is the best way for an MGO to further his or her education?”, I would say to look at some form of these three areas, as they will offer you the best way to understand human behavior and create mutually satisfying offers.