Intellectual Curiosity: Key to Gift Officer Success

Rodin's Thinker

The list of skills gift officers must possess is a long one. However, one of the significant traits that separate the great gift officers from the rest is intellectual curiosity.

Gift officers who possess a genuine interest in world affairs, the arts and culture, sports, science, social theory, and medicine will be able to use their knowledge and curiosity to drive success with donors. Additionally, gift officers will find a greater sense of place in the institutions they serve, with faculty, physicians, and others seeking them out with new ideas. Intellectual curiosity becomes its own virtuous cycle.

When I worked as a gift officer and led fundraising teams, I often found that conversations with faculty members or physicians after a lecture allowed me to connect in a significant way with donors. Ultimately, those lectures and conversations – and the knowledge I acquired from them – often planted a seed that led to a gift or at the very least advanced a relationship. The more donors see us as extensions of the institutions we serve, the more credibility we gain and the more effective we become.

Example: Several years ago, I was working with an individual with significant capacity. He was interested enough in the institution I served to meet with the president and me several times, but we were not getting anywhere “pitching” him on our routine list of priorities. What became clear was this: These were our interests, not his. This man ran a successful packaging company, and over a dinner conversation, he expressed his frustration that in developing countries, disaster-relief packages too rarely reach the people in need. It happened that two weeks earlier, I attended a faculty member’s lecture on research and practice on this topic. That serendipity enabled me to discuss the university’s work in exactly the area of this prospective donor’s passion. The dinner conversation led to a meeting between that faculty member and donor, and several million dollars later, our university had an institute devoted to improving the logistics of disaster relief.

Without question, this successful outcome had a great deal to do with the expertise of the faculty member and the chemistry between her and the donor. But the bottom line is that when gift officers are doing their jobs well, they are seamless conduits between the institution’s mission and the donor’s interests. The more gift officers know about the very fabric of the institution, and the mission-driven work that occurs there, the more successful they will be.

I believe intellectual curiosity comes naturally to most gift officers, but there are tactics to ensure you are keeping up. Read broadly, set a goal of attending a certain number of lectures and performances each month, pursue your own interests – whatever they may be – deeply, and ask questions. The results will not only be personally enriching, but also professionally satisfying.

Join Joe for his free half-hour webinar on “Creating a Sense of Urgency for Donors,” a timely topic with the fiscal year close upon us all, on Thursday, May 12, at 12:30 pm EDT, or on Friday, May 13, at 12:30 p.m. PDT for our West Coast followers. Register now!

Joe Kender serves as the Senior Vice President of GG+A’s Training and Coaching practice area. He has more than 28 years of leadership experience in development and fundraising, alumni relations, and advancement in higher education. He can be reached at jkender@grenzglier.com.

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