The 3 Problems with Fundraising Performance Metrics

Performance metrics are important.  But performance metrics aren’t the work.  Performance metrics represent a proxy for our work.  And sometimes a poor proxy at that.  Our work is not some number of moves, visits, or even the asks or the dollars committed we can claim.

Our real work is qualitative in nature.  It’s making people feel engaged, it’s advancing important missions, it’s educating, it’s facilitating the delight that comes with meaningful giving, and it’s expressing gratitude in ways that touch.  It’s rich.  It’s fundamentally human.

But we live in a quantitative, “prove what have you done for me lately” world.  And so performance metrics that supposedly translate our effectiveness are part of our professional experience.  Many of you who work with me, know that I believe performance metrics can be very helpful.  But only if they are designed and devised from a set of values and applied with very specific methodologies.  The wrong performance metrics can hurt your team’s efforts and results far more than not having performance metrics at all.

Here, then, are the top 3 problems with the way performance metrics can be implemented:

  1. Measuring too many things.  The goal of well-thought-out performance metrics should be to measure the most effective development activities, not to measure every activity.  If you find your team moving toward measuring the number of calls, emails, letters, etc. (as examples), they will- de facto – focus their attention on reaching the goals of making calls, sending emails, and writing letters.   Pretty soon all of a development officer’s time will be spent keeping track of what she is doing instead of actually doing the real work.  A hallmark of good performance metrics systems is that they help clarify the very best work on which a development officer should be focused.  Keeping track of a laundry list of activities doesn’t appreciably help advance your institution’s mission.
  2. Measuring away the incentive.  One of the most frequently asked questions I get from managers is “how many visits should my major gift officer make in a year?”  To which I answer, “I’m not sure that it matters.”  Is that an unsatisfying answer? I’m sure it may seem that way.  But here is why I give it.  I advocate for inclusive goal setting.  Let the development officers have input.  Listen to them.  Effective managers want fair goals for the team (and by the way, so do most good team members).  The reason I say “fair goals,” is because performance metrics should encourage productivity not discourage it.  If goals are set so high as to be perceived as unreachable, people will be discouraged.  “Fair” is, of course, a perception.  What a manager might think is fair and what a new development officer might believe to be fair may be worlds apart.  But the only way a manager can establish goals that encourage better performance is to include in the setting of the goals those who will be evaluated by the goals.  I’m worried less about what the actual number is and more about whether the number will encourage the individual to be more productive.
  3. Measuring without evaluation.   If you’ve figured out what to measure and how to measure so that you encourage the best performance, you should now focus on the meaning of those measurements.  Results will not change if what is measured is not evaluated.  Measuring without evaluation is simply keeping track.  When we utilize the performance metrics in evaluation, we are focused on continuous improvement and results will increase.  But when we do not utilize performance metrics in evaluation, we devalue the metrics themselves.  And more importantly, we miss opportunities to help those in our care live into the full promise of their ability.

Measuring our qualitative work quantitatively does matter.  We must be able to translate the value of our work to many audiences and constituencies.  And sometimes that means using performance metrics and other quantifiable measurements.  It can be done well.  But only when we keep in mind that there is a big difference between the performance metrics we use to translate the value of our work and the work itself.


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