“How Many?” versus “How Deeply?”

For many institutions, the concept of “advancement performance metrics” can be boiled down to a collection of quantifiable goals that represent some number more than last year’s.  For instance, you may have a metric for an increased number of $1,000 donors.  Or, you may have a metric for an increased number of “moves,” or “visits” you should complete with major gift donors and prospects.  Or, you may have a metric that represents an increased number Twitter followers for your institutional account.  For many of us, quantity rules and metrics take on the task of answering the question, “how many?”

And while the “how many?” question is important, it is not the most important question.  Indeed, if you are aiming to encourage the very best gifts from the vast majority of your constituents, the real question you should be addressing is not “how many?” but, rather, “how deeply?”

“How deeply?” suggests something different about our work.  It suggests that we should care about how emotionally-connected people are with our institutions.  “How deeply?” changes the focus from the metric itself to the individual the metric represents.  “How deeply?” doesn’t ask us to count bodies, it asks us to measure interest and passion within those bodies.

If your institutional advancement goal is to serve more and better by building or renovating facilities, expanding programs, growing endowments, or increasing your annual fund totals, you will exceed your goal by connecting your donors and prospects more fully and meaningfully.  Simply focusing on “how many?” donors and prospects you engage will not get the job done.   Having 50,000 Facebook or Twitter users who follow your institution’s page is not nearly as helpful as having 2,500 donors with 500 of them being deeply and emotionally-connected.

We operate in a world of virtual connectedness in which “how many?” is the question du jure.  However, authentic human connectedness happens in real space and time.  And lasting institutional progress happens through making this human connectedness consistent.

So, go against the grain – go for relational depth in all that you do.  Build your advancement budget and organizational chart for relational depth.  Move away from event and transactional fundraising gimmicks and build your annual and strategic plans for relational depth (be prepared to ask meaningful questions of your donors and prospects during face-to-face meetings for instance).  Re-assess your advisory boards and councils, your governing board, your foundation board and push yourself and your team to engage creatively the spirit of the people serving.

In the macro, we are bombarded with the question, “how many do you have?”  It could be, “followers,” “likes,” “attendees,” or “moves,” “visits,” and “solicitations.”   We are not asked with any consistency about the depth of emotional-connectedness of these individuals, only how many we have collected.  As if the wholeness and richness of the human spirit can be summed up in a data point.

But in the micro, where individual donors make individual charitable gift decisions, all of those quantifiable metrics pale in importance to the answer to one simple question, “How deeply do they care?”

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