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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Fundraising Metrics: Don’t Just Count the Dollars

We all know the old adage “what gets measured gets done,” but knowing what to measure is easier said than done.  In most professions certain tasks are closely correlated to success, and resource development is no different.  Many frontline fundraisers – especially those more junior – often find themselves defaulting to the easier “busy work” tasks that can make one feel as though they are being productive, when in fact they ignoring their most vital responsibilities.  Frankly, we all fall victim to this from time to time.

Fundraising outcomes (i.e. dollars raised) are the most commonly used metric for evaluating fundraising staff, but they are not the only metrics that we as managers should track.  While the amount of money coming in the door is obviously an important measure, there are several inputs that should also be considered, which I would argue are as essential.  First and foremost, fundraising is about one thing – relationships.  Donors give to organizations they feel connected to.  Yes, people occasionally give to organizations after a one-time catastrophic event, because a friend asked them to, or they received a particularly compelling card in the mail, and so on.  But when it comes to recurring gifts that grow in size over time – and into very large major gifts – those donors have been carefully engaged and cultivated.  This level of relationship building does not happen by sitting in an office filling out reports, or by dutifully answering the deluge of internal email we all receive.  Meaningful sustained giving is the product of evocative communications, out of office visits with prospective donors, and from making strategic well-planned solicitations.  These must be tracked and evaluated.


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The evaluation process for development officers should measure the inputs and outputs known to correlate directly with success.  Frontline fundraisers should have goals for out of office visits, the number of solicitations they make over a certain dollar amount, the total dollar amount of all solicitations, and the total amount they raised.

To make the process dynamic and truly useful for employees, managers should include the performance measures in regular meetings with their direct reports.  The system will not work if it is only visited once per year during employee annual reviews.  In this way, the system will act as a powerful management tool for providing feedback and coaching.

Of course, a metrics tracking system is only as good as the incentives that drive employees to use it.  The most obvious opportunity to incentivize employees is through their compensation.  Cash bonuses and pay matrixes are frowned upon by some of the larger professional fundraising trade groups, but annual salary increases seem to cause less ire.  Therefore, salary increases can be pegged directly to performance metrics, and if managers worked side-by-side with their reports to continuously monitor performance, then employees will be fully engaged in the process.

In addition to these structures, there are also cultural mechanisms one can employ to make the performance evaluation system a success.  First, it is important to ritualize the celebration of successes.  Recognize a job well done!  Public recognition of meeting or exceeding goals on a monthly or even weekly basis will make a person feel good about the job they are doing, and it can add a bit of social pressure and competition.  As part of this celebration rite, it might be useful to insert some sort of physical or ceremonial symbol.  Perhaps we could create or purchase a trophy or silly object to be passed around and displayed on the desk of the current top performer.  Moreover, the simple act of keeping track of good work and pointing it out in staff meetings can be very powerful.

There are many other fun incentives we could offer.  Parking close to the building is a premium.  The weekly top performer could earn the use of a coveted spot for the week.  Vacation days, awards, and lunches are other inexpensive ways to reward performance.  Most importantly, keep in mind that people generally need incentive beyond the satisfaction of “doing a good job” — at least in the long term.

Of course, there are technical hurdles organizations will face in the implementation of such a system.  A robust database software program is required for the collection of relevant fundraising performance data, but that is for another blog post.

Terry McManus provides leadership and coordination for TGen’s fundraising efforts in the areas of neurogenomics, metabolic disorders, and rare childhood disorders. Terry works closely with TGen’s scientists and staff to develop and manage strategies to attract resources in support of TGen’s mission. His work includes elements of major giving, corporate and foundation relations, venture funding, community outreach and various collaborations with TGen supporters.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog