Competing for Talent

9 Strategies for Improving Major Gift Officer Recruitment

Topics: Advancement, Fundraising, Major Gifts and Campaign Strategy

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Executive Summary

Lesson #1: Gaining an Advantage in the Bidding War for Talent

The market for major gift officer talent is more competitive than ever before. Colleges and universities must improve their recruiting efforts if they are going to successfully attract high-quality fundraisers.

Demand for fundraisers has exceeded pre-recession levels. Higher education institutions are relying on major gifts to replace other sources of revenue that have been cut or reduced. Simultaneously, other nonprofits are expanding into the major gifts fundraising space and competing with universities for fundraisers. This environment has created a seller’s market in which highly qualified gift officers can choose between an abundance of employment opportunities.

Colleges and universities typically prefer experienced fundraisers, but these individuals are the most difficult and expensive to recruit. Institutions can side-step the “salary arms race” by proactively identifying strong candidates, customizing their approach based on institutional need, and accelerating gift officers’ transitions into the organization.

Salaries for experienced major gift officers have risen exponentially alongside demand, creating significant salary inflation that has posed challenges for many institutions. Fortunately, non-monetary factors like office culture and professional development opportunities play as big a role in career decisions as financial compensation. Innovative institutions proactively seek out strong candidates, build long-term candidate pipelines, design a hiring and interview process that puts the candidate’s needs first, and provide a holistic onboarding program to accelerate full productivity.

Lesson #2: Gaining an Edge on the Competition in the Bidding War for Talent

Internal staff can be an excellent source of future major gift officers. However, they often encounter challenges to moving into development roles. Common difficulties include a lack of opportunities to express interest and few pathways for exploring the profession.

Internal staff bring a range of strengths to fundraising positions, including knowledge of and contacts from other areas of the university. However, recruiting practices often cater to external candidates and unwittingly create a variety of barriers to internal candidates. To build a strong internal pipeline, advancement leaders should both encourage interested staff to apply and proactively identify potential candidates.

Some institutions look out of industry for fresh fundraiser talent, but it can be difficult to establish networks and pipelines for connecting with the right individuals.

A wide variety of professions cultivate skill sets that can transfer to major gift officer roles. This means that the population of potential nontraditional candidates is overwhelmingly large. Many advancement leaders would like to diversify their talent pools by dipping into the out of industry market, but they do not know where to start. From the general population, colleges and universities should identify and focus on those individuals who will be the best fit for the role. Some institutions have found success by leveraging their alumni networks and hosting networking events.

  • Toolkit and Resource Center 

    This library of tools will assist institutions recruit high-performing major gift officers from a pool of traditional and nontraditional candidates. Access now.

The Fundraiser Talent Crisis