When It Comes To Metrics, What Does Not Get Measured Does Not Get Done

We have spent a lot of time over the last several years helping organizations establish metrics to measure the development office and staff performance against a set of standards. Often these standards are based on what peers are doing and on some “best practices” in development. But often, what these metrics lack are 1) and grounding in the reality of the organization, 2) a system to capture the correct information in order to assess progress and 3) an internal process that supports achieving the established metrics.

We are proponents of establishing metrics for development offices and staff. We believe, fundamentally, that people perform better when they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. We also know that most organizations can’t just add staff in order to achieve incremental growth in fundraising (nor should they, as more staff is often not the solution). But, we also know that simply setting metrics without addressing 1, 2 and 3 above is a prescription for failure. So, to be successful with establishing metrics:

  • Just because your peers are successful with a specific set of metrics (or someone had decided a specific metric is a “best practice”) does not mean it is appropriate for your organization. Let’s say that you have been told that a major gift officer should be handling 200 prospects – 100 for solicitation, 50 in cultivation mode and 50 in qualification mode. That sounds good. But only if you have a pool of good prospects that made that realistic. Oh, and how about a prospect researcher to identify the pool and conduct necessary research so the major gift officer is informed. IF the development officer is going to be charged with building their own portfolio, you probably need to temper or phase in your metrics to meet that reality. Likewise, if you have a large pool of prospects who are not “ready to ask,” you might need to adjust your expectation of how many solicitations can be made initially.
  • Just because you have a database system that can do a lot does not mean it is being used in a way that can actually capture and measure against your metrics. Before you decided to hold people accountable for reaching specified goals, you need to make sure that you have a system for capturing and measuring their progress toward these goals. The information you have been asking people to input into your system may not be what you need to track your metrics. You may need to have some work done in preparing your database to receive the data, or train your staff to provide the information that you want. And, you want to make it is easy as possible. Many databases can now be accessed remotely, even by tablet or phone, so that call reports can be done in real time.  One rule we use in setting up metrics programs is -“if it’s not in the database it didn’t happen” – but to enforce that rule you need to make it easy to access and work with your database.
  • A big part of success in setting up a successful metrics program is understanding that it is a process, not just a moment in time and that your staff will need assistance in working the new process. First is the understanding that portfolios are fluid. Prospects should be removed from and added to a portfolio on an ongoing basis as prospects are solicited, qualified, etc. Generally, determining when a prospect is ready to be moved out of a portfolio – and either moved up to a higher level or down to a lower level – is best done in a collaborative way. That is to say, during regular portfolio review meetings. These meetings should allow for opportunities to discuss strategy for specific prospects, review outcomes and determine what portfolio prospects belong in. These are also an opportunity to help your staff learn to think strategically about their prospects. We often hear managers complain that their staff needs to spend more time in front of prospects, however just sending them out to meet people without a set of objectives and a strategy for getting there is not effective. What is the ultimate goal for each prospect, what is the strategy for getting them to that goal, and what is the planned next step? These are important aspects of “development,” so make sure your metrics process supports good development work, not just asking anyone who will listen for money.

Metrics are a good tool for development, but like all tools, they can do more harm than good if not used properly.