If you don’t have a major gift program, Richard and I would counsel you to INVEST in one right now. Before you do anything else, this is where you will see the biggest return for your non-profit.

However, if you are in a smaller organization, you may not have a board that “gets it” yet, or you just don’t have the luxury of hiring a full-time major gift officer (at least not at this moment). You need a temporary solution to help get you to a long-term fix. We get it.

So the question is, “how do you work a caseload of donors when you can’t immediately hire a full-time MGO?” There are a few options. None of them is great, but they will help you in the short-term until leadership understands that they need to invest in a full-time position, or until the caseload is producing enough revenue where you can justify it. Here we go:

  1. Director of Development works a caseload — This is typically the first thing we would suggest if you cannot hire an MGO right now. While this is NOT optimum, for a period of time this can work if you have discipline and focus. The first thing we ask the Director of Development (DoD) to do is to figure out how much time she can allocate toward major gifts. Let’s realistically say it’s 25% of her time. So it follows that if a full-time MGO can handle 150 donors, then a quarter-time position really can only handle 35 donors, at most.

What we would recommend then is to take a full caseload of 150 qualified donors, rank them by potential to give, and take the top 35 of this list. Then develop goals and strategy around those 35 donors.

The only way this will work, however, is if the DoD has someone who can manage his or her time and keep the DoD accountable to it. This could be an assistant or even the executive director if they can set up a regular weekly meeting where the DoD can report on progress. Richard and I have seen overambitious development directors who think they can take on more and more. They fail because they do not manage their time, and things “get away from them.” Remember, this will only work if you are held accountable.

  1. Executive Director or CEO works a caseload — We have worked with some non-profits where the CEO says they want to work a caseload of donors. They may think they need to, or they don’t have any staff to do it. This rarely works. There are always good intentions: “Oh no problem, I can carve out 50% of my time to do major gift fundraising.” We have heard this a million times, but it never happens.

What we do suggest is to create an “executive caseload” for your ED or CEO. An executive caseload is no more than 10 high-capacity donors who have demonstrated that they desire a relationship with the ED and have given large gifts. These donors want access to the ED, and it’s crucial to their giving. However, it’s the Director of Development or the ED’s assistant that has to hold the executive accountable for his caseload work. More importantly, the ED has to willingly submit to this management, agreeing to stay focused and carry out the strategy.

  1. Board Members or other staff work a caseload — This is the least desirable method, but it’s one that can work for a short period of time. Volunteer board members have a caseload of donors, or other staff at your non-profit take on a caseload.

In both cases someone, namely the Director of Development, has to manage this carefully. Anyone taking on a caseload of major donors has to commit to a specific amount of time and be held accountable for spending that time on the donors. We’ve seen so many well-intentioned board members or staff think they can take on a number of donors, only to fail miserably because they don’t really have the time, and no one is holding their feet to the fire to actually execute the plan.

Remember this ONLY works if people with a caseload are willing to be held accountable by the Director of Development (notice the recurring theme here, ACCOUNTABLE – not everyone can handle this). If not, don’t waste your time trying to make this work.

Let me come back to what I said at the beginning of this post. Right now, if there is one area in your fundraising program where an investment should be made, it’s major gifts. No question. It has the most immediate bang for your buck AND it has the most potential for your organization’s long-term benefit. Forget the social media/Facebook stuff. If you don’t have a major gift program, you will not survive.


P.S. If you would like help convincing your board or Executive Director you need to invest in your major gift program, we provide a FREE audit of your major gift database that will help convince them otherwise. Click here to request us to contact you about this.



  • Tim says:

    Great post. For me this topic also raises the question of ‘at what point does a small or new organization hire an MGO?’ I’m thinking of the many arts, social service organizations and other similar NPO’s often with a local focus.

    • Tim, thanks for writing. That’s a good question. The answer is when either your board is willing to invest in an MGO and take a risk or when your caseload because to large for one person to handle. If you could convince your board to hire someone if the caseload were a 2.5-3.0 to 1 ROI and then grow it over the next three years to a 6 or 7:1 ROI it would be so worth it.

  • Thank you for this bucket of cold water — I’m an ED who was hoping to manage a caseload of 50 households — which aspiration had already been vastly scaled down from my original intent to manage 150, thinking I could do a full MGO’s work while also serving as an effective ED.

    So now that I am working to adapt to this new reality, I’m curious what recommendations you have for my executive assistant as she works with me to fulfill this statement from your article: “However, it’s the Director of Development or the ED’s assistant that has to hold the executive accountable for his caseload work.” How does she do this?

    Thank you!

    • Roxanne, she does this by creating a standing meeting with you with this as the only agenda. Then, everything you agree to in the meeting, she follows up with you the next week to make sure you did what you said you were going to do. I’m assuming that each donor on your caseload has a goal and and strategic plan for how to achieve that goal. Your assistant makes sure you are sticking to the plan and YOU have to allow her to manage you. For some ED’s that is a difficult ego pill to swallow, but if you can do it, you will be successful.

  • Mary Bennett says:

    What if you are a small nonprofit that doesn’t have a development director?

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