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Measure This, Not That: The Metric We Should Use For Every Frontline Fundraiser

Metrics are a tricky thing. Many people say that in donor relations it's hard to find metrics that stick or that show the importance of our work. Our front line fundraising counterparts have tons of metrics. But are they the right ones? What if we measured fundraisers not just on how much money they raised but instead on the long term success of those monies? It’s no secret that at many organizations money is often accepted and then years later there are difficulties getting the money spent.

Whether the fund is overly restrictive, not exactly needed, or there are administrative difficulties, maybe a measurement should look at spendability of the funding. Let’s take two examples: Gift A is a $50,000 fund for need-based students with no restrictions or criteria other than need. Gift B is a $250,000 fund for need-based students who also demonstrate an aptitude in student research and are from a certain rural area. In our traditional metrics, gift B is more lauded than gift A. But in reality, is it a better win for the organization? In ten years, gift B has only been spent 3 out of ten of those years and gift A has been spent every single year. So which one is doing better for the organization and thus is a more sustainable source of funding?

It is true, not all gifts are good gifts and we should be careful with what our gift acceptance and restrictions allow. The same can be said for reliability of the pledge payment process. Another example to follow: Gift A is for $500,000 pledge over 7 years from a donor who has had an inconsistent giving history and is stretching themselves for a naming opportunity at the stadium so they can “be alongside their peers”. Gift B is for a $150,000 outright cash gift from a donor to their already established endowed fund. In our traditional metrics, Gift A would have a higher value and reward for the fundraiser in terms of metrics. But in all reality, what happens in year 3 of the pledge payments when the donor stops paying and the organization has to write off $285K of the gift and decide what to do with the stadium naming. At the end of the day it turned out to be a costly decision.

The idea here is that we need to not just measure money in the door at our organizations, but we also need to measure the sustainability of those gifts. And, to this point, what if the fundraiser themselves were given a sustainability score? It might help us identify the fundraisers we want to retain and those we are not sad to see leave. If the average front line fundraiser turnover is 16 months, then there are lots of issues that can be left in their wake. Rather than just focusing on immediate metrics of fundraising success, perhaps we start by taking a look at the longevity and sustainability of their fundraising as well. Because those of us know in the donor relations field who is left holding the responsibility, and it's not the front line.

Something to ponder, maybe something to forward to your leadership and have a conversation about. We’re here to challenge the status quo—join us.


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