Why Quality is better than Quantity in Major Gift Fundraising

Richard and I work with a lot of Major Gift Officers.  We love them.  We love working with them.  We think they have one of the greatest jobs ever.

But, if left to their own devices, they would have 1,000 donors on their caseload,  (which, by the way, is literally impossible to cultivate) and go down in flames trying to make it work.

Am I right, all you Major Gift Officers?

I think there are a few reasons (little demons) why MGO’s want so many donors on their caseload.

  1. They love people so much that the more they meet the happier they are.  MGO’s think they can have hundreds of relationships all going at the same time…”the more the merrier.”
  2. It’s hard for an MGO to let go of a relationship, even when the donor has little or no intention to give.  I get it.  Some of you get really emotionally attached to your donors and even if they don’t have the capacity to give, you still want to maintain the relationship.
  3. It looks good for your overall revenue goals.

Let me try to address these one by one.  First, great MGO’s are usually people who love meeting people and just can’t get enough of the stimulation they receive from making connections with others.  I happen to be like this myself.  The problem is that to be effective in major gift fundraising you have to build, nurture and grow relationships with people.  You have to go deep. You simply cannot do that with hundreds of donors.

Secondly, while I understand that letting go of a donor can be emotionally difficult for you, you are thinking more about your personal needs than your organization.  Richard has talked about this many times, but there is an economic reality that you have to understand.  For every donor you’re spending time with who doesn’t have capacity to give, you’re not allowing a donor who DOES have capacity to have a relationship with your organization.  That equals LOST revenue.

Remember, you are not best friends with your donors.  You are representing your organization to your donors.

Finally, regarding revenue goals, this one gets me really riled up.  If you’re keeping donors on your caseload just because they help make your overall numbers look good, then your manager is not evaluating you correctly.  You should be evaluated on gifts that come in through proposals or direct asks that you have with your caseload.  All other gifts that come in through white mail, direct mail or in any other way, you should be given “soft-credit” for.  This means that if you are cultivating these donors, and  a donor gives, but not as a direct result of your actions, you will still get acknowledged, but not receive sole credit for the gift.

Your performance should be evaluated overwhelmingly on your direct asks and proposals.  So, the idea of keeping a bunch of donors on your file because you get credit for that revenue is totally counterproductive to managing a caseload based on quality.

So, what does quality mean?

Here is a guide.  It’s not set in stone, but this is what we use:

  1. No more than 150 donors per caseload.  It can be less, based on the overall caseload value, meaning, how much revenue is expected from your caseload and what is the overall capacity.  I have some MGO’s who have only 75 donors, but the value is over $5,000,000 in total revenue.  This leads to the second point,
  2.  ROI.  We’ve talked about this before, but in the beginning stages of development,  we want to see a 4:1 to 6:1 ROI.  Then, as your caseload develops, we want to move that to a 7:1 to 10:1 ROI.  See our post on this if you need more information.
  3. Tier your donors: A,B,and C levels.  The reason for doing this is that it allows you and your manager to know where you should spend the majority of your time.  It also allows you to evaluate whether a new donor is worth replacing a C level donor on your current caseload.

This little guide can help you significantly in trying to decipher on whom to concentrate your time and energy.  And that is the big point of this whole post.  Quality time spent on a few donors is much more effective than spreading yourself too thin and not being able to adequately nurture a relationship with a donor who has a passion for your organization.

Don’t be tempted by those three little “demons” swirling around in your head.  The quality of your relationships is key!



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
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2 Responses to Why Quality is better than Quantity in Major Gift Fundraising

  1. You’re the best at this and I thank you for this blog. I mostly work for “small” human service organizations that do not have dedicated MGO’s, but I have performed in the MGO role at some of the world’s largest NGO’s (intl humanitarian orgs) and would like to add one reason why some MGOs are always adding donors/prospects to their file: competition with other MGOs in the same shop. Given the rapid turnover in our field in general, the MGO that stays builds the best list. As one MGO leaves I have seen agency careerists poach major donors from that temporarily leaderless file, so by the time the new ambitious hire arrives on the scene she gazes upon the careerist MGO with awe: How does he make those numbers without breaking a sweat? Awe until a few months elapse and the newbie begins to hear whispers from her peers about the years of poaching, culling, refining — building easy job security. The managers also come and go — but not that careerist MGO. If anything, in terms of fear, even the new manager coming on the scene fears doing anything to irritate the careerist MGO “with the file.” This is the kind of disappointment that quickly erodes the enthusiasm of the new eager believing-all-things-positive-about -the-cause professional that arrives in the shop ready to save the world. Reality sets in. Try as you may to keep the cause uppermost at all times, the not so subtle competition within the shop steals the love and fun out of the mission to the point when one must steel herself to endure the monthly numbers game. That’s why I for one now work only for the cause until it becomes just a job, despite the fact that the MGO jobs pay multiples of what the true causes pay.

    • James, you make a really good point. Yes, I’ve seen this happen as well. Again, this shows a lack of management of the program. This creates an unhealthy culture of competition that is not based on what is best for donors. Thanks for bringing up your experience.


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