You Hired a Major Gift Officer, Now What?


You hired a new Major Gift Officer with the goals of building and expanding your prospect portfolio and increasing your fundraising totals. Given the average tenure of a Major Gift Officer is 16 months, it is important to cultivate and retain talent. Creating the right onboarding program will set the stage for a long-term, healthy relationship with your new Major Gift Officer, and in turn, will strengthen your donor base.

The following are recommended tips for building a robust onboarding program for this new and valued member of your fundraising team.

Set Expectations: Letting your Major Gift Officer know what’s expected of him or her is critical during the first few days in the new role.

At Averill, we suggest creating a 30-60-90 plan detailing projects, tasks, and the general knowledge expectation at the 30, 60, and 90-day marks. A definitive plan provides structure and immediate goals for your new employee, and a platform for accountability. This plan should be included in your succession plan, which details how you’re going to onboard your employee into their role.

Organizations should have a succession plan for executive leaders, board members, and high-level team members (like your Major Gift Officer).

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can you can give your new employee a smooth transition into their new role, check out this succession plan guide from Double the Donation.

It is the Major Gift Officer’s responsibility to fulfill these obligations and report back to his or her manager at the conclusion of each set period.

So, you might ask, what should be included in the plan? Below are seven key topics to include in your Major Gift Officer’s 30-60-90:

1. Determine how to manage up, down, and across.
2. Familiarize your Major Gift Office with the prospect pipeline.
3. Know the office’s external communications calendar. 
4. Learn a detailed history of your organization and it’s fundraising operation.
5. Understand gift acceptance and processing policies and procedures. 
6. Set activity benchmarks (by month/week).
7. Understand how to use office technology.

Let’s jump into the first tip!

1. Determine how to manage up, down, and across – Managing up, down and across are key skills to learn when starting in a new role. Your new Major Gift Officer should understand how to make requests of colleagues as well as his or her boss, and how to report on a given day’s or week’s work. Is a weekly or bi-weekly check in with the Major Gift Officer’s manager or the head of the organization appropriate? Absolutely! Clear communication between colleagues is crucial to a functioning development office.

2. Familiarize your Major Gift Officer with the prospect pipeline – This is perhaps one of your new employee’s most essential tasks in the first days on the job. He or she should know who your organization’s top 25 donors and Board Members are, their giving history, their businesses/means of wealth and the reasons why they give. This knowledge lays the groundwork for important conversations and major gift strategies in the future.

3. Know the office’s external communications calendar – A new Major Gift Officer should be able to identify when key events occur and communications pieces are sent to donors throughout the year. This includes direct mail pieces, email campaigns, phone calls or phoneathons, promotional pieces, and important donor events such as 5ks, galas and golf outings. The Major Gift Officer should also grasp his or her role in each.

4. Learn a detailed history of your organization and its fundraising operation – To be successful, your Major Gift Officer needs to be prepared to answer questions about the history and culture of your organization. It is also important to grasp its history of fundraising operations and campaigns, which will help when planning future fundraising initiatives.  

5. Understand gift acceptance and processing policies and procedures – Understanding office policies should be a given for any new job, but learning your organization’s gift acceptance and processing policies and procedures are entirely different subjects. Although there are industry best practices and standards, every institution accepts and processes gifts in different ways. Your new Major Gift Officer must understand what types of gifts are accepted, how they are accepted, documented and acknowledged at your organization and the chain of command in gift processing. (Is a signed pledged gift form needed, or does an email commitment suffice? How are in-kind gifts acknowledged?).

6. Set activity benchmarks (by month/week) – Setting activity goals will help your new Major Gift Officer understand the number of briefing and cultivation meetings, phone calls and gift requests it will take to be successful in this new role. Without defined objectives, it can be difficult to identify why the Major Gift Officer has either exceeded or fallen short of fundraising totals for a given month or quarter. Maintaining an activity log will help to stay on track and identify areas requiring attention.

7. Understand how to use office technology – Gaining a basic knowledge of how to use all technology in your office from the copy machine to the email system, shared calendars and the donor database are key components of the new job. Month two is an ideal time to provide donor database training for your new Major Gift Officer. He or she should understand how to enter and update information, set up a query, run financial reports and track activity.

What else can you do? You hired a stellar Major Gift Officer and cannot wait to share the news! Send an announcement with an employee bio to your Board Members, major donors, and internal staff. Have your Major Gift Officer meet Board Members and major donors by allowing him or her to accompany the VP of Development or the head of your organization on several briefing meetings during the first few days on the job. Encourage your Major Gift Officer to meet with key organizational leaders to better understand your not-for-profit’s mission and work culture, and how he or she can collaborate with colleagues.

Do not lose sight of the big picture. You hired your Major Gift Officer to further your not-for-profit’s mission to serve and strengthen your community. Keeping the big picture in mind will help to create an environment for your Major Gift Officer to thrive and become passionate about your institution’s goals and objectives.

Best of luck to a successful start!

Sarah Andrews, Assistant Vice President

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