Testimonial: Major Gift Officer Boot Camp

Gobel Groupblog

Being a major gift officer is often a demanding job, but with the right toolkit and tactics, it can be a rewarding one, too. Gobel’s one-day Major Gift Officer Boot Camp is intended, among other things, to help MGOs set and meet reasonable goals, identify and target prospects, and determine key strategies for working with clinicians. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding, so we reached out to two attendees to get their side of the story.


Emily Chuma is the Foundation Development Officer at Inova Alexandria Hospital, a 318-bed facility that has provided high-quality medical care and cutting-edge medical technology to Alexandria’s community for more than 140 years. Since she was new to specifically healthcare-based foundation development, Emily decided to attend Gobel Group’s Major Gift Officer Boot Camp in order to expand her methodological approach to healthcare philanthropy.

“I’d already spoken to several gift officers who’d attended the boot camp in the past,” said Emily. “I’d heard really great things, and I was looking forward to learning best practice approaches to major gift fundraising.”

Emily was most interested in learning new pipeline strategies, as well as the techniques for implementing them in meaningful and effective ways. She was primarily struggling with methods to identify grateful patients and to attract donors from a wider age group.

“Inova is, at its heart, a community hospital, adored by donors of all ages,” said Emily. “We appreciate every single one of our donors, of course, but it’s important for us to start engaging the younger generations, too.”

Sara Alger had similar concerns. Sara is the Director of Development of the Foundation at Advocate Aurora Health Care, the 10th largest not-for-profit, integrated health system in the United States.

“One of the things I was going for was to find out how to build a better pipeline,” said Sara. “We’d just undergone our merger with Advocate and Aurora, and both sides were struggling with the pipeline side of things. There are definitely some things we are doing already, like talking about gratitude, but I wanted to find out how to bolster the things we weren’t currently doing.”


Many of Emily and Sara’s concerns were addressed during the training, and they experienced a few surprising revelations along the way as well.

Emily’s biggest takeaway was the grateful patient program. “I’d had experience with donor relations before,” said Emily, “but much of what I learned in the boot camp was totally new – Gobel’s training team offered much better trouble-shooting methods and real-time solutions than what I’d already been exposed to.”

She also indicated that her pipeline problems are now a thing of the past. “Until I attended the boot camp, I had no real idea about how to begin long-term planning,” she said. “The pipeline development strategies offered proposed a quick turnaround and more lasting results. It’s been huge for us.”

Because of the typical challenges that accompany a new merger, Sara, on the other hand, decided to focus on more specific pointers, things that she could change more easily and more immediately. One presenter offered better ways to approach physicians and ease the awkwardness of introductions, including instructions to compose a preliminary letter to be given to the physician before any in-person contact was made.

“Strategies like that made a lot of sense to me,” said Sara. “Instead of trying to walk with physicians in the hallway or request a formalized meeting – that ‘envelope transaction’ method streamlined things a lot. Going along with that, the letter samples offered were awesome. Instead of recreating the wheel, we just had to kind of tweak the provided examples to suit our needs.”

Sara noted that another key takeaway was making alterations to the specific vocabulary gift officers should use in discussions with prospects. “I really liked the suggestions to use more informal language,” she said. “For example, saying ‘my team member would like to reach out to you,’ rather than ‘the foundation would like to reach out to you’ – that was a key tip for my team, and it’s definitely helped to eliminate a lot of the discomfort in our approach.”

Sara also found the training’s “bless and release” concept to be useful. “I think, in some cases, we were definitely holding onto too many people,” she said. “Being such a small team, we usually only have one or two gift officers per hospital, so it’s important to fill our pipeline, without losing those clients who aren’t major donors. It can be a struggle sometimes to make those donors still feel loved and appreciated, but at the same time make sure that we’re properly qualifying the right people for major gifts.”


Emily and Sara were both more than happy to share their experiences at Gobel’s Major Gift Officer Boot Camps, and to encourage other officers to attend.

Emily especially liked how the boot camp attracted healthcare foundations of varying shapes and sizes, and how that allowed for meaningful networking opportunities. “Some attendees had been gift officers for years and years, and others were even newer than me to healthcare,” she said. “It was interesting to compare notes, and to see what other groups did during training sessions, as opposed to what my team did.”

“The crazy thing is: it’s just one day,” she added. “It’s very intensive, covering every single aspect of the field. Such a wealth of information is made available to you, but it’s so well-paced and well-presented that you’re able to absorb it all in such a short time.”

The boot camp also taught her a vital lesson about her role in healthcare philanthropy. “It helped me to understand that being a gift officer is, first and foremost, a learning experience,” she said. “In this field, everything is constantly moving and changing, and it’s absolutely fine to try new things. The training gave me the confidence to do just that.”

Sara was pleased with the whole experience, from start to finish. “Overall, I loved the day, loved the people, loved every bit of it,” she said. “The enthusiasm and the spirit of excitement was just fantastic. The group that was there presenting was wonderful, and they made it a fun day. Since most of the information was totally new to me, it really kept my attention the whole time.”

She noted that the value she received from the training will extend into the months and years to come. “It was just such a phenomenal experience. There are still many things I took away from it that, although we haven’t been able to implement them yet, I’m hoping we can embrace more fully in the future.”