The Quality/Quantity Dilemma

Is quality more important in our work?  Or is quantity king (or queen, as it were)?

Quality, of course, suggests that we do only a few things – but do them exceptionally well.  Quantity, on the other hand, suggests that we attempt as much as we can with less concern about being world-class.  Both characteristics are present in our work as development leaders, but applying these two concepts effectively can sometimes confuse even the most seasoned development leaders.

Generally speaking, success in major and planned gifts relies more on quality.  While exceptional annual fund results rely more on quantity.  Here are two examples:

  • Advisory Councils – this formal major donor cultivation activity is clearly a quality issue.  Some institutions will have multiple Advisory Councils or groups, but have the wrong people on them.  In other words, every program has an Advisory Council and those who serve on each of these groups are best characterized as run-of-the-mill annual fund donors.  Of course, each of these Advisory Council must be staffed and managed.  So, the advancement office ends up serving groups of weak major donor prospects and, then, wonders why they don’t have time to call on better prospects in their portfolios.  Much better to have a single institutional Advisory Council and place the most promising major gift prospects on it.
  • Phonathon – this staple of annual fund work is clearly a quantity issue.  Whether you are talking about the number of prospects to call (which should be just about everyone in your database) or the number of callers to solicit, quantity trumps quality.  Sure, you need to train your phonathon callers to be effective and efficient on the phone.  And, yes, you are better off calling a database full of lybunts and sybunts as opposed to “not yets.”  But, in the end, the more callers you have and the more prospects you can call, the better your results will be.  Your phonathon is a numbers game.  The more, the better.

There other examples that support the point – the number of major gift prospects on an major gift officer’s pipeline.  One hundred high-quality (high affluent) prospects is better than having 200 unknown prospects.  But on the other hand, the number of direct mail solicitations sent is different.  It more important to send an appropriate number of direct mail pieces (quantity) than it is slave over wordsmithing every word in a single letter (quality).  You get the point.

It can be easy for development leaders to get caught in the trap of “we must do it all – and do it all well.”  It simply is not true.  And, it’s actually bad leadership to attempt implementation of such a philosophy.  You will not get the best possible results.  And, you run the real risk of burning out those who are in your care.

Some parts of our work should lead us to focus closely on quality.  In other aspects of development, quantity is the key to success.  Understanding when and how to use both principles will help you become a more effective and respected leader.


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