Ask your MGO candidates to 'show you' what they can do

Considering the emphasis today on large-dollar and mega gifts, there's little margin for error when seeking a high-performing major gift officer. Hiring and developing a top fundraiser is a crucial investment, and institutions can't afford to swing and miss. During the 18 months we studied key drivers of fundraiser performance, we discovered innovative models for selecting MGOs.

This interview technique was developed by Northern Arizona University, a public regional university in the western United States. The goal is for an MGO candidate to demonstrate their abilities during the interview process.

The "show me" procedure involves four different activities:

1. Plan a visit itinerary

First, candidates are asked to plan a trip itinerary, including which prospects they'd visit, when they'd visit them, which plane ticket they'd buy, how much driving time they'd include between visits, and more. This exercise tests a candidate's ability to prioritize between prospects and choose anchor visits. It also tests basic practicality and the simple ability to plan an itinerary.

Rural schools and those for whom a primary donor base is not close to campus will find this tactic especially relevant.

2. Visit with a prospective donor

Next, the hiring manager arranges for each finalist candidate to meet with an actual donor (a university volunteer). The candidate receives some information on the donor and signs a confidentiality agreement. The hiring manager accompanies the candidate on the visit to make the introductions but takes a passive role in the meeting. This exercise is a excellent method to test behavioral and linguistic flexibility.

One potential drawback: The volunteer may either become too attached to a candidate who doesn't ultimately receive an offer, or the reverse situation, where the volunteer dislikes a candidate who ends up being hired.

3. Write a contact report

After the donor visit, the manager and candidate return to campus and the candidate completes a contact report for the visit. This is an excellent method for evaluating a candidate’s intellectual and social curiosity. The hiring manager looks for whether the candidate picked up on the right cues, asked good questions, and identified appropriate next steps.

4. Create a prospect strategy

The last step of the interview is a group activity called a Prospect Strategy Session. Similar to the trip itinerary exercise, this tests the information distillation skill of the individual. The hiring manager, candidate, and at least one peer MGO have a conversation about strategy for a prospect. Ideally, the subject will be a multi-interest prospect affiliated with the hiring unit. NAU has two goals with this exercise: one, to see how appropriately the candidate can identify strategies for the prospect based on background information, and two, to see how the candidate interacts with other staff members.

This is a great way to find out what someone might be like as a colleague and to secure buy-in from staff members on the hire.

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