The Problem With Metrics

Performance metrics in development are important.  CEOs and Board members want clear indicators which depict the value of our work.  Savvy donors expect to see institutional efficiency.  Even the government is poking around in the finances of non-profits like never before.

However, we make a huge mistake when we make metrics our focus.  Much like teachers who end up “teaching to the test,” when our focus becomes the measurement, we miss the point.  And we don’t achieve our goals.

At the core, development is a qualitative enterprise.  We build and strengthen human relationships. We inspire.  We educate.  We create and communicate institutional vision.  We support mission and the work of others in a variety of ways.

However, metrics are almost always quantitative.  We quantify.  We count.  We add.  We classify.  We compare.

The point is not that quantifying a qualitative enterprise is impossible.  We can quantify our work – e.g., number of visits, number of moves, number of proposals, dollars raised – and more and more, we must.

The point is that our focus should always stay on the qualitative.  Keep the focus on building the relationships with donors.  Keep the focus on inspiring others with a compelling vision for your institution’s future.  Keep the focus on educating people about the opportunities to give and support your work.

When we focus on the qualitative work, all of the quantitative metrics take care of themselves.  If we attempt to do the reverse and focus on “meeting the numbers,” we find we can’t.


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