Principles of Training New Major Gift Officers—Part 1

The non-profit fundraising sector is in the midst of a major talent shortage, most acutely felt on the frontline. Development officers are getting recruitment calls constantly, even within a few months of moving to a new institution. This model of trading talent back and forth in short intervals to temporarily meet institutions’ hiring demands in unsustainable. Therefore, all development programs should invest, not only in their current fundraisers, but also in building a pipeline of new fundraising talent. To do so, there must be meaningful, deliberate training for those professionals who are new to the field or to major giving. Any institution working with a team of new fundraisers should integrate the following key components into their program.

Exposure to and Understanding of the Donor Perspective

According to recent research from the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent1, the best fundraisers are those who actually mirror the values and perspectives of donors themselves. They give a higher percentage of their own income to charity, donate blood at a higher rate, and believe passionately in the cause of their institutions. Those new to fundraising need to first understand and identify with donors in order to be successful. For those who have been hired from outside of the field (e.g., with a background of sales or marketing), this step is all the more critical. Major giving is very rarely a transactional relationship. In order to connect with prospects and donors and be successful in fundraising, many individuals will have to undergo a paradigm shift.

The upside of this component, however, is that integrating the donor perspective into your training and onboarding presents a fantastic opportunity for donor engagement, stewardship, and volunteerism. By asking donor volunteers to share their stories, serve on panels, and even participate in training new development officers, institutions have established another valuable connection with these philanthropists. In return, the donors are able to see themselves as partners in the health and future of the development program itself.

Definition and Cues of the Major Giving Cycle and Development Team

For someone entering the frontline, the flurry of activities and responsibilities can be overwhelming. As investors in these team members, the development office must have a focused discussion and orientation to the major giving cycle. This should include, not only supplying definitions of how prospects at a certain organization are categorized but also providing meaningful case studies, guidelines, and cues for how individual prospects move through stages. When we work on training faculty members and physicians on being partners in development, we often provide them sample cues and responses that indicate donor interest and readiness. The equivalent of that tool is rarely offered to fundraisers.

In next week’s advisory, we’ll wrap up the essential principles of training new major gift officers.

BWF’s TalentED practice offers one-on-one coaching, intensive training workshops, and talent management counsel to help our clients recruit, retain, and grow a high performing fundraising team. For more information contact us at


One thought on “Principles of Training New Major Gift Officers—Part 1

  1. Pingback: Principles of Training New Major Gift Officers – Part II | Targeting Fundraising Talent

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