It was an interesting discussion. We were sitting with personnel from a very large international non-profit, talking about what constitutes a winning major gift team. This organization has almost 90 MGOs now, and they plan to grow their major gift team to way over 100 MGOs. Everyone agreed that we needed to add a MGO. But what else was needed?
This got me thinking.
Well, we certainly needed administrative support. (I wrote about that while back, here.)
And we needed someone to create donor offers. (You will want to read this previous post about that.)
And it would be really helpful if we had a donor researcher – someone skilled at researching all the details on donors, so that the MGO could be fully equipped in their management of donors on their caseload.
So we all agreed that these were the labor assets needed for a winning major gift team. The way to think about this if you are a smaller organization is that these are the content inputs you need for major gift success. Whether you hire people on staff to do the work, or pay for the work to be done, or do the work yourself, all of these areas are critical elements for success.
But then someone asked: “If these are the critical labor inputs for success in major gifts, what is the staffing level needed for each? How many administrative assistants are needed for how many MGOs? And how many donor offer people? And donor researchers?”
Here is what Jeff and I think about this:

  • We believe that to have a fully functional MGO, one administrative assistant is needed to support every two MGOs. Our research shows that the expense of this admin assistant is more than made up by increased MGO revenue. So the ratio of MGOs to administrative assistants is 1:2, in our opinion.
  • On prospect and donor researchers, we think you can have a fully engaged employee doing this work if you have six or more MGOs. Think of it this way. One MGO has 150 qualified donors of which, let’s say 50 fall into an A or B tier, meaning they have more potential than the rest of the caseload. This means that for six MGOs, you have 300 donors to research fully. We think that a researcher would be fully engaged with anywhere from 300-500 donors to research, so you could stretch this to eight MGOs, but not too much more.
  • On donor offer creators – this gets tricky. In our experience most organizations, no matter what their size, will have 10-15 donor offer categories – major program categories that the organization is committed to fund and operate. Depending on geography and reach, these categories can grow to twice that number. One organization we work with has eight general program categories, but when you look at the different countries they operate in and the subcategories of work that can easily be of interest to a donor, that number multiplies to over 300.

This same dynamic is true for chapter-based organizations, like the YMCA or Feeding America or Volunteers of America, etc. There may be general categories that work across the entire organization, and then specialized categories that work in certain regions or geographies. In these cases we recommend that a central donor offer person create offer templates that can be customized to the different areas.
But separate from all of these considerations, how can you justify hiring a donor offer staff member? If you have a fundraising revenue goal of $3 million or more, you should have someone who works on donor offers – not only for the major gift work, but also for the direct mail, events and other fundraising programs. You will always need someone to take the organization’s budget and translate it into donor offers, so the cost of this position could be spread to other fundraising activities.
Jeff and I caution you not to think about this labor input as a discretionary, “we’ll get it if we can afford it” item. Believe us, you need it – and you will be far more successful in your major gift fundraising if you have it.
So take the leap and add this person to your staff. Keep him focused on translating all your program categories and sub-categories into donor offers. You will not regret you did this.
These are our ideas on how to resource your major gift program with MGOs, admin assistants, donor researchers and offer creators. We feel very strongly about the ratio of admin assistants to MGOs; the other ratios of work to labor could be adjusted a bit one way or another. Use your judgment on those.
The important thing is to do something in each area. Why? Because it WILL affect your bottom line – you will raise more money AND keep donors happier because you have aligned your work, through good information and relevant donor offers, to who they are and what they want.