Are YOU Hiring?

Lately, Richard and I are seeing a ton of Major Gift Officer openings around the country.  I’m not sure what is going on, but 1) that’s great news, and 2) it scares me.

Let me explain.  Whenever a non-profit is out “hunting” for a new major gift officer I’m really leery about their process.  I mean, let’s be honest. Our industry is notorious for turning MGO’s over…and over, and over.  I think the average tenure of a major gift officer is 2.3 years.

This is frustrating both for the non-profit and the major gift officer.  It leads me to believe that the process of hiring a major gift officer is deeply flawed.  What are we doing wrong?

Richard has written quite a bit about this and has some good advice.  I also ran into a great post by Karen Osborne in the 101 Fundraising Blog.  She writes about looking for competency and training for skills.  Richard and I would totally agree with this. But to understand if an MGO candidate has this competency, you need to ask the right questions which get to the heart of it.  Here is what she says about this:

“A book that just came out, ‘How Children Succeed’ by Paul Tough, suggests that optimism, perseverance and grit are essential for childhood and adult success.  They sound like the perfect competencies for gift officers.  Add intelligence, strategic agility (the ability to think strategically on one’s feet) and a passion for both the cause and philanthropy and you have a pretty good list of competencies for gift officers.”

So, how do we find out, in an interview or reference check, if a candidate possesses these traits?  Here are some questions that have worked for me.

  1. Tell me about a time in either your personal or professional life when you’ve had to persuade someone with whom you’ve had a poor relationship to take an action you wanted them to.  Please, spare no details. (With this question I’m testing for empathy, will, strategic thinking).
  2. Share with me at least two examples of times you had to overcome daunting obstacles in order to achieve your goals (Testing for will, strategic agility, grit, perseverance, optimism).
  3. Follow-up questions – What did you learn from that experience?  Share with me an example of how you used what you learned in subsequent situations. From this I’m trying to find out if the candidate “fails forward” as David Bornstein calls learning from one’s mistakes; also his or her willingness to take risks.  Interestingly, within the Google culture, they talk about “failing forward fast!” These questions also test for humility.
  4. Scenarios–I tell the candidate that I want to share a scenario with him, a difficult visit we had recently with a potential donor. (I make sure at least five things go wrong as I tell the story of the tough donor visit).  Then I say to the candidate, ‘Tell me how you would have addressed each one.  Again, please be concrete.  What would you do; what words would you use, and so forth?’

I love this one.  It tests for listening skills which are so important and part of empathy; it uncovers strategic agility, intelligence, resourcefulness, will, and legislative skills.”

I think Karen is right on here.  These are awesome questions to ask and they get right to the key elements that make for a great MGO.

So, if you’re looking to hire an MGO anytime soon, use these questions to help you find the right one.  Remember, hire for competency, train for skills.


About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Hiring, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Are YOU Hiring?

  1. Nic says:

    I have a different version of this rather than hire for competency train for skills, I’d go for hire for character train for skills. Competency and skill have some overlap in meaning, character has a very different meaning to skills .

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