Meaningful Metrics

By: David T. Shufflebarger, Senior Partner

You may have heard the phrase, “What gets measured gets done.” It’s variously attributed to Peter Drucker, Lord Kelvin, and the Renaissance astronomer Rheticus (the sole pupil of Nicolaus Copernicus). Its original version was, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.”  Measuring it, of course, doesn’t mean much unless you know why you are doing so.  In short, you need to be measuring toward an end.

We are often wont to say that our work in development is both an art and a science. While more research is being done to buttress the science part, things are probably still tilted more toward the art part. Thus, many folks are loath to measure what they do.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with major gift officers and their metrics for visits and solicitations. Some MGO’s plan their work, get after it, and the numbers take care of themselves. Others moan and groan and, sadly, game the system with such things as recording 10 visits when they bumped into that many prospects at an event. Or, they drop proposals like confetti just to make their numbers. Their numbers sometimes look good, well beyond goals; but, the quality of what underlies them is lacking.

The best MGO’s know that their work with prospects is most effective when they are up close and personal and that means visiting folks. I am reminded of the Vice President who had tent signs made for each MGO’s desk.  On the front it said something like, “The only way bees make honey is to leave the hive.” On the back, it said, “If you can read this, you are not out making honey.”

So, these effective MGO’s make sure they are seeing their prospects. It’s hard work getting the appointment and doing the travel to get there, but it pays off. While they use their metrics to make sure they stay on track, they are even more conscious of the quality of their visits and solicitations. In short, they know the goal is to build authentic relationships that lead to support for the institution.

Sometimes the problem is not the MGO, but the manager who only watches the numbers and fails to consider qualitative factors. Let’s say the MGO’s goal is 160 visits, 40 solicitations, and $1.5 million in gifts for the year. A good manager won’t squawk if the visits and solicitations are below goal but the dollars are above it because of a big gift that was complex. Or, the dollars were below goal because a big gift came in July 1 rather than June 30. Even the best MGO’s can’t control the timing of when their prospects may make their gift.  All they can do is make sure they are given the chance to make that decision in a timely way.

So, what’s the point of all this rambling? Metrics are important and should be a key part of a good major gifts program. But, they should be balanced with a qualitative assessment of what has been done this year and over time and conscious of the ultimate goal of building relationships and securing gifts.