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Master Gift Officer… Shifting a Paradigm

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Mark Twain, a true master of the written word, observed “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Yes, language is very important. And like most professionals, those of us in fundraising can get stuck in the inertia of our own dated vernacular. How many of you are doing your job the same way you were 10, 5, or even 2 years ago? Times change, our profession evolves, and so should our reference terms and their definitions.

Fundraising, development, advancement… suspects, prospects, donors… engagement, cultivation, stewardship… annual giving officer, major gifts officer, principal gifts officer –
certainly the ABCs of the core of what we do as philanthropy professionals. But what these words all really mean, and how do they contribute to personal as well as organizational success today?
It used to be a lot simpler. Maybe a decade or two ago, there was usually a clear distinction between annual fund and major gift donors. Gift officers had their assigned ask ranges. If a prospective gift rose above these “gift officer” parameters, the prospect and their opportunity were transferred to the stewardship of a “major gift officer.”

Those days have gone the way of the index cards and many choices of donor databases.
Today what matters in the fundraising world are skills and relationships, not titles or boundaries. Gift range responsibilities should be irrelevant, and job titles “flexible”, when it comes to optimizing opportunities. For example, who should lead or participate on the team assigned to a wealthy donor with capacity for a six-figure campaign gift? Careful – that’s a trick question. The answer is the person with the best relationship with the donor – even if that person is not technically a “major gift officer” by title.

Being able to find and secure gifts at any range takes practice, patience, and good tutelage – factors that are independent of the number of zeros on a check.
Perhaps a better way of thinking about what we do – or strive to do – needs entirely new language to capture. The inclusive phrase, “Master Gift Officer”, is a new way of defining this paradigm shift. The master reference is just that – and meant to indicate the highest level of ability, talent, and dedication within the development profession.

Almost all of the skills, traits, and habits associated with Master Gift Officer status can be learned by development professionals who are truly committed to success.
Here at Copley Raff and our sister organization the Philanthropy Leadership Advancement Nexus (PLAN), we have assembled a comprehensive list of key attributes that defines a “Master Gift Officer.” We have seen these traits repeatedly in the most successful fundraising professionals. In order to help others achieve this excellence, we have created a 4-day intensive Master Gift Officer Event, called PLAN-MGO, which trains on these distinctive winning factors. The event is produced annually; the 2011 session will be held October 29th through November 1st in the Boston area. Check it out here at Without giving away the store, suffice it to say that passion, smarts, emotional intelligence, and genuine interpersonal interest are all at play for the Masters.

Your takes:

  1. Never underestimate the power of words: professional language can be powerful and liberating or restricting and limiting.
  2. Match opportunities with relationships and do not limit planning to rigid titles or dollar value parameters.
  3. It’s time to acknowledge the masters of our trade with due language and regard.
For more information about Copley Raff and its spectrum of not for profit consulting services, please see
Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.