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Agatha Christie Would Have Been a Great Major Gift Officer


Agatha Christie books on a shelf

I love to read for pleasure. There is nothing better than getting lost in a book and the characters, the settings and the story line. My favorite genre is mystery. I really enjoy trying to figure out who did it and how, before it is revealed on the pages in front of me. Only recently did I realize that part of my work in development is very much like those characters I follow who are trying to solve crimes.


A good detective pays attention to the setting. The pictures, the dress, the jewelry, etc. The same is true about a good major gift officer when meeting with a prospect. That is why I really enjoy meeting at someone’s home or office. I love to see what is important to her, the art, the photos, the memorabilia, etc. All these clues tell me some of the person’s priorities and most important interests. If he has pictures of places he has visited, do you know the place? It is a great opportunity to ask about the trip. Does she have pictures of famous stars or politicians? Does this tell you about political leanings that may align or conflict with your organization? When he tells you the story about the picture, read the body language to see the level of engagement. That is an important clue to help find the prospect’s passion. It will make the asking down the road much easier.


If you get to meet at the prospect’s home, you can look for other clues that you won’t get as easily at Starbucks or over lunch. Are important decisions made together as a couple? If you meet them together, you can get a sense by how they respond to questions. Is one person always answering and the other not as engaged in the conversation? Is your organization equally important to both or only one of them?


In addition to the place, have you done your homework to learn as much as possible about his/her other charitable giving? It is much easier to get support from someone who is philanthropic than someone who isn’t, regardless of total wealth. If she has made other gifts, are you asking for a similar amount? If not, what makes you think you should ask for more or less? Does your organization’s mission seem to align with the majority of his giving? If not, why do you think he will be interested in you? He may well be interested, but you need to have the answer before you go to see him.


As you try to build the profile of the prospect, there are other important clues to try and learn. Is there a gate keeper that is important to win over in order to meet or have a conversation? It could be an assistant, a financial or legal adviser or a relative. It will help solve the mystery if you know the answer. Are you thinking about a capital project when all her other gifts are for programs? Or vice versa?


If we pay attention and do our homework beforehand, we may be able to emulate Agatha Christie’s ability to see the most subtle clue. Good luck and happy searching!

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