Realistic Expectations | npENGAGE

Realistic Expectations

By on Feb 21, 2012


One of the main questions I am always being asked is how many prospects should a major gift officer have in their portfolio?  My initial answer is that it depends on the gift officer and what does the portfolio look like.

I remember having two gift officers with very different size portfolios – one with 125 prospects and one with 200.  If the evaluation is strictly or primarily based on the size of a portfolio then I believe you are setting yourself up to fail.  Both were incredible gift officers with great successes.  I knew that if we assigned 200 prospects for every officer then some of those individuals would not be cultivated/stewarded to the level of standard that should be expected.  If the percentage of gifts achieved is high for both then don’t mess with what works.  I am all for making people stretch but you need to base that on various criteria.

Some factors to consider would be what percentage of time is really being devoted to major gift work?  We need to factor in administrative duties, meetings and my favorite other duties as assigned.  If your gift officers are multi-tasking on a high level then their portfolio needs to be reflective of that variable.  Level of experience and tenure at the organization is also a big factor to keep in mind.  What is the geographic focus of the portfolio?  If I have one gift officer who is flying around the country and one whose prospects are locally based then that should be taken into consideration.  What is the average level of ask within each portfolio?  We all know cultivation time for a high multi-million dollar gift can be much longer than a six figure gift.  The same could be considered for planned giving.  Is the portfolio weighted heavily with annuities and CRTs?  If so, then the timeline to get those completed will be longer than a bequest.  I think another great question to ask is how well established is your major gift program or planned giving program?  You not only have to give your officers some consideration with this but your constituents.  If you have a fairly new major gift or planned giving program then you need to educate your donors and this takes time.

I recommend that you do this analysis for not only your gift officers but for other members of your fundraising team.  Take the time to come up with thoughtful and strategic questions to help determine each member of the team’s expectations will help create harmony, success and retention of staff.

*Michael Quevli is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach him at


Comments (2)

  • Candra Gilcrest says:

    Would you be able to give some examples of the strategic questions you mention in the last sentence? I’ve been thinking a lot about this and totally agree – know expectations as well as capabilities is key to having an effective working relationship.

    Are there any resources which might have more insight into this?  Thanks!

    • Michael Quevli says:

      Hi Candra,  Sorry it has taken so long to respond but I have been on the road non-stop.  So if your organization is relatively new to major gifts then you need to give consideration to your constituents as well.  I would imagine the conversion from a phone call to a meeting may take longer so you want to think about that as far as expectancy of the gift as well as the size of the portfolio.  I would be careful about the size of the portfolio because there will no doubt be a large group in the qualification area than normal.  Cultivation will probably take longer so having too many prospects would not be advantageous.  I mentioned geographic make-up of the portfolio in the article and that is a big factor.  If I have one gift officer where primarily all their prospects are within driving distance is a lot different than someone who has prospects all over the country.  If my portfolio is geographically diverse then I should have less than those who are all within the immediate area.  Newer gift officers should probably have a slightly smaller portfolio than those who are either seasoned fundraisers or have a long history with the organization.  Finally I would definitely meet individually with each gift officer on a regular basis and encourage them to stretch with regards to the size of their portfolio.  We would not ask a donor to give $100,000 when their history is $100 likewise I would not ask a gift officer to increase a portfolio from 75 to 200.  You want increases at a reasonable level.  I will check on resources.  Please feel free to contact me at

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