10 traits of terrible major and legacy gift fundraisers

Sadly, I’ve witnessed all of these but I truly believe #1 is the worst.

Here are my top 10 traits of terrible fundraisers that drive major donors away: 

10. Showing up late;

9.  Failing to do something that was promised;

8.  Talking about how great they are at raising money;

7.  Pitching or presenting instead of collaborating;

6.  Forgetting what was discussed last time;

5.  Lacking gratitude and appreciation;

4.  Pressuring, guilting or shaming;

3.  Noticeably lacking true passion for the cause;

2.  Focusing too much on organizational needs instead of on each donor’s needs;

1.  Talking too much, listening too little;

What do you think? Agree with #1? Witnessed any others? Want to add to my list?

Related Posts:

>>Guide: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Major Donor Letters
>>Blog post: 5 traits that make a great gift officer great

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
evan bohnen
5 years ago

Well said, Greg!
Could discuss each of the top 10 “terrible” traits in some detail. As I have worked with major gift/fund raising teams, I often spend time on # 2 with some modification. We (the institution) are not needy, but we have priorities, initiatives, and aspirations. Then, how do our priorities match up with the philanthropic interests, priorities, and objectives of our donors?

David Rutledge
David Rutledge
5 years ago

This is good. I was recently approached by a seminary that I graduated from, for a $100,000 donation. (They asked for a particular amount) The person who took me out for lunch talked about himself, and what he had done in the past. He has some printed material (his cost approximate $2) in his hand to give me, he never did. I never received a Thank You for my time from him.

I felt I was treated rudely. No, I did give any money

Kevin Feldman
5 years ago

I agree, Gregory.

Now let’s see how we remedy the situation. A bad major gifts officer doesn’t have to stay that way.

Margaret May Damen, CFP, CLU, CAP

Failing to get their story
Failing to validate their story

Marci Seamples
Marci Seamples
5 years ago

Several of these are terrible traits in ANY profession. #6 is a personal pet peeve.

Gary Kovar
2 years ago


Your question begs the question, What are the top ten best traits of a major / planned gift fundraiser?
Here is my top 10:
10. Showing up on time, and calling the day before to confirm;
9. Say what we do, do what we say…following through on what was promised;
8. Talking about how the donor has made and continues to make such a difference in their giving;
7. Asking the donor, “What Kind Of World Do They Want?” Then collaborate with them on how to achieve this vision;
6. Begin with a short conversation of what was discussed last time along with what needs to be discussed;
5. And attitude of gratitude and great appreciation;
4. Providing time and space for the donor to ponder, affirmation of their decisions, and giving them the credit;
3. A true passion for the cause;
2. Matching the donor’s desires to organizational objectives & opportunities;
1. Listening the gift.

Deborah Robinson
2 years ago

I would care to add that major and principal gift officers who:
1. treat their colleagues as competition for recognition.
2. fail to update or keep secret their interactions with prospects and donors.
3. when a more junior colleague discovers a prospect, they take over vs. teaching, guiding and supporting.
4. lack a values based work ethic.
Along with all on your list!

Mark Jones
Mark Jones
2 years ago

I agree that your #1 is #1. Your #9 is my #2.

Get smarter!
Get smarter with the SmartIdeas blog

Subscribe to our blog today and get actionable fundraising ideas delivered straight to your inbox!