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June 27, 2018
Thank you for Asking, Jerold Panas
July 26, 2018

How Many Fundraising Staff Does It Take to Raise $1 Million?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic number? An “industry standard” for how many fundraisers an organization needs to hire to meet its growth goals?

How much easier this would make fundraising planning and staffing!

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Like so many answers to so many questions, it depends.

It depends on the life-cycle stage of the organization: A fundraiser in an organization in the start-up phase will generally take longer to raise funding than a fundraiser in a more mature organization. The more experienced fundraising operation has the advantage of an established pool of prospects and the systems in place identify, cultivate, and ask them.

It depends on how the organization is raising money: Even in a mature fundraising operation, the amount of money each fundraiser can raise depends on the method they are using. For example, a corporate giving officer can raise large chunks of money – hundreds of thousands of dollars –  in one go. But a direct mail fundraiser is raising funds in smaller (but critical) chunks.

It depends on the willingness and ability of the organization to invest: Most people understand and believe “it takes money to make money” in business. However, in the nonprofit sector, organizations differ in their willingness to invest in fundraising salaries to attract good staff and the infrastructure to support them.

Despite these dependencies, we found recent survey results from the Pierce Family Foundation in Chicago interesting. The foundation asked their grantees about their staffing and fundraising levels to try to determine a standard – or at least a common experience – of organizations and the number of fundraisers they employ per dollar raised. Ninety organizations answered the survey with fundraising revenues ranging from $500,000 to $8 million. An analysis of their data can be found here.

The conclusion from the survey is that “it takes one full-time staff person to raise $500,000, with additional staff needed for $1M and incrementally thereafter”.

In other words, for every $500,000 of revenue, you’ll need 1 staff member.  As you look at the results, you’ll note that the number stretches out to $500,000 – $1,000,000 per fundraiser as the overall revenue raised increases. More resources are available and fundraising becomes more efficient at the higher levels.

The Pierce Foundation also included quotes from research and professional articles that support this number of one fundraiser per $500,000.

It’s an interesting rule of thumb that we wanted to share with you, but be very cautious in using it in any fundraising assessment or planning:

  • No one can raise $500,000 or more without a healthy prospect pool and fundraising infrastructure.
  • You can’t expect a new staff member walking into the organization to raise any “standard” amount in their first year. It takes a while to learn an organization and build relationships with donors.
  • It is not best practice to set fundraising objectives based on this yardstick. Objectives for fundraising staff should be set according to the organization’s fundraising strategy, assets, and the level of professional experience of the fundraiser.
  • This “rule of thumb” does not take into account any of the dependencies around life cycle, strategy, and investment above that can seriously affect a fundraiser’s ability to raise funds.

 What do you think about these survey findings? Does it ring true to you? Do you find it helpful? We’d love to hear your view!

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