Chapter Leadership Brief 11.08.18

By Gary Laermer, AFP-NYC President

The Changing Role of Major Gift Officers 

After nearly 40 years of working for great nonprofit organizations, I’ve come to realize the most challenging title to live up to is Major Gift Officer (MGO). According to, the average salary for open MGO positions in the New York area is $87,324—and there were over 300 openings! With all of these available jobs and completive average salary, I wondered why everyone I spoke with has said it’s the hardest position to fill.  There seems to be a challenge filling the positions and once filled, the turnover rates are very high.  Have we been creating jobs and titles that are difficult to recruit and setting up expectations that are impossible to achieve?  How can an MGO find a path to greater success and longer tenure?

A few of my observations include most importantly, have a mentor, or better yet, have several mentors.  If you’re an MGO or aspire to be one, surround yourself with great mentors who can help you successfully perform the job.  MGOs need to manage up, with staff leaders who may have overreaching expectations, laterally with their peers, and their own team. It’s a skill that mentors, like those you’ll meet at AFP events, can help you with.  Second, don’t stop learning from others. Connect with other MGOs, learn about their successes and failures, share yours, and ask for feedback.  AFP Professional Advancement events are the perfect place to meet your next mentor. 

Lastly, don’t get confused by the title. While MGOs may feel their sole role is closing and counting gifts, the job is so much more. Closing the gift might be the easiest part of the job.  Everything leading up to and following a gift is the hard part.  Before a gift is closed and in between gifts, you’re more of a “chief connecting officer.” You connect a potential contributor with the mission of your organization. You must represent the mission in such a way that the donor comes to deeply value the change or impact you’re promising.  Personalizing the experience for each donor is the hard part. Mastering the skill of personalizing your work with each donor is the key to success. That’s why staying connected with your peers is so vital, because many of the skills needed to be a successful MGO are learned through actual experience and shared stories. So, stay connected and don’t miss an opportunity to seek out feedback and support when the job seems particularly challenging.

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