Rethinking Fundraising Metrics

Data is increasingly driving the world of development. The ability to access and utilize data has changed how teams are shaped, how donors are engaged, and where resources are allocated. In addition, development organizations and major gift teams have rapidly expanded, and new data tools allow real-time fundraiser activity reports to evaluate fundraiser performance.

Simply tracking metrics to evaluate performance, however, will not always predict or measure real performance by these team members. Focusing on one key performance indicator (KPI) can lead to ignoring other meaningful activities and successes. Organizations that don’t reflect on the meaning and strategy related to metrics can inadvertently encourage inefficiencies and non-productive actions in development officers’ quests to meet their annual goals.

Additionally, organizations that don’t properly implement the use metrics to drive performance evaluation can create a disconnect between activity and strategic goals, causing managers to focus on tracking behavior over improving performance. According to BWF’s 2014 Survey of Frontline Fundraisers, approximately half of fundraisers believe that their metrics don’t reflect important activities. For those who have dual responsibilities (managing a volunteer program, leading a team, all while managing a portfolio, for example), there frequently are not concrete measurements for activities that make up sometimes over half of their workload. For others, uniform metrics do not adequately match the workload they face, depending on variance in the warmth of their portfolio, capacity of their prospects, or structural obstacles like leadership vacancies or lack of clarity on priorities that impede their performance.

Unintended side effects of poorly implementing three of the most common metrics in the industry are highlighted below.

Common Metric Rationale Unintentional Side Effect
Number of Visits Fundraiser performance is closely correlated with the amount of time he or she spends in the field and in front of donors. Development officers meet with the same donors repeatedly and do not focus time on discovery or solicitation.The quality of the visit declines, and few strategic objectives are met during meetings with prospects.
Number of Asks Fundraisers should be expected to ask for gifts consistently and proactively. Development officers ask too early in a relationship.Fundraisers ask for smaller than necessary gifts from high-capacity donors, seeking to get a gift on record over working for a long-term investment by the donor.

Cultivation activities are recorded as “asks” when a meaningful solicitation has yet to be made.

Total Gift Income
At the end of the year you look at what’s counted. Fundraisers’ primary responsibility is raising money. High performers can be penalized for larger asks that are closed after the fiscal year.Low performers can be rewarded by large gifts that come in on their own but are assigned to their portfolio.

There is a desire to “own” as many prospects as possible.

Credit sharing is misused to “tag into” large gifts, creating the impression of performance.

The answer is not to abandon metrics altogether. Many of the challenges described above can be mitigated through proactive management by supervisors and accurate and thorough reporting on metrics. Measuring performance and especially facilitating feedback sessions with team members on the interpretation of those results is a critical component of talent management. Metrics need to therefore:

  • Act as only one component of a larger system of understanding, creating accountability for, and evaluating performance.
  • Take into account a development officer’s tenure and portfolio composition.
  • Be created via collaboration between development officers and supervisors.
  • Be implemented consistently and reported on frequently.

Discussions about areas for skill and knowledge growth and training needs should go hand in hand with this process. This way, professional development can be targeted towards and influence the right activities by development officers.

BWF’s TalentED practice provides customized training and workshop programs to help grow the capacity of development teams. For more information contact us at

Originally published May 14, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.


Evaluating Your Fundraising Talent? Here are a couple of quick tools to use

A large component of talent management revolves around it’s most basic question: who do we have? Answering this can be more difficult than we think. A full review of who you have on the team requires leadership attention and a commitment to follow up. In development, where we have many levels of leadership, roles and responsibilities, it can be especially easy to focus on one level of the team, while ignoring rising stars and performers elsewhere. Luckily we can borrow some tools from the business world in performance management. The first of which is the well-known 9-box, which is a tool for mapping out team members based on performance and potential.

9 box

An alternative method for categorizing performers can be completed through focusing strategically on current performance and answering key questions relation to the attrition risk and next steps of each team member in a category. A sample visualization of this process can be found below:

rating performers

The visual above can further be applied specifically to development, refining the definitions of the behaviors that merit a ranking of 5 versus 4 versus 3, etc. In my work I have spent quite a deal of time building out a full 1-5 competency matrix for frontline fundraisers, breaking out key competency areas and levels of performance against which managers can evaluate development officers. It has been incredibly interesting and challenging, but the increased clarity pays off as medium and rising performers now more clearly can see what they have to do differently. An excerpt of the model (which has five major competency areas, with 4-5 sub categories each) is below:

compentency excerpt

Five behaviors of top fundraisers

Happy Tuesday everyone!

In this previous post we talked about attributes and personality traits that are commonly found in top frontline fundraisers. But many fundraisers without all of those attributes can be very successful. Likewise an individual can possess all the qualities of a great fundraiser and have low results because his behavior leads to weaker relationships and lower gift income.

So, for part II of this series we will talk about what activities and actions set the top fundraisers apart from their colleagues and industry peers. When we look at portfolio yield and performance metrics as well as donor feedback we find that there are five areas where a top fundraiser sets himself apart from the rest. The strongest fundraisers:

1. Make more calls:  The most effective fundraisers are rarely in the office; they spend a majority (at least 60% of their time) making calls, visiting prospects, and networking. Think of it this way: if a fundraiser has a portfolio of 130 prospects, with 25% of those prospects being a high priority and capacity, he should expect to meet with each of these top prospects at least 3x per year. To meet the minimum commitment for just a quarter of this portfolio would then require an average of ~8 calls per month (not including phone contact, scheduling, events, etc).  Presumably the remaining 3/4 of his portfolio will also need to be seen or engaged at some point.  Major gifts are successfully solicited through relationships; if a fundraiser is aggressively setting meetings and reaching out to prospects then he will be more effective at relationship building and bringing in new gifts.

2. Make the ask earlier: Soliciting prospects is a common problem area for many organizations. Let’s face it – asking for money can be uncomfortable and awkward, no matter how willing and engaged the donor may be. So, what some development officers do (whether consciously or subconsciously) is postpone asking for a gift, delaying solicitation by months and even years. Top performers on average make the ask in 3-5 less visits than their peers. This behavior allows them to meet with more people in their portfolio and increase the total number of solicitations in a year. If a prospect is properly cultivated, an earlier ask will help to set the precedent for their giving as well as offer the clearest picture of the prospect’s overall giving intentions (useful for those of us who have held out for a seven figure gift only to discover at solicitation that a prospect’s intentions are more at the $25k level). Moreover, because top fundraisers make the ask earlier they are reinforcing their own role and relationship with the donor; it is easy for those lines to become blurred when a prospect is not asked for a gift after 18 months of visits and meetings.

3. Follow-through on closing the gift: Solicitation is the beginning of the process. It is unfortunately common to meet with constituents and prospects who intended to make a gift to an institution, but never received the follow-through to secure the gift. The best development officers not only commit to closing a gift but prioritize their time to actively focus on securing a gift within 60 days of the solicitation.

4. Strategically include institutional leadership: It can be difficult to have spent 10+ months meeting with an individual, building rapport and becoming close with a prospect, only to be expected to hand off the “climax” of the process to someone else in the institution. Egos can easily get in the way. The strongest fundraisers, however, know that leadership can help elevate giving in way that a DO simply cannot.  Bringing in project leaders or institutional administrators heightens the stakes of an ask for both donors and fundraisers. When it is successful it will frequently increase the size and perceived prestige of the gift, as well as build a multilateral, stronger relationship with the donor.

5. Keep in contact with donors after the initial gift: Our colleagues in the area of annual giving know all too well the cost of an initial gift and value of retaining donors; entire analytics models are build around this concept. For major giving, where the gifts are larger and the timeframes longer, one can lose sight of what’s ahead once a significant gift is successfully secured. Successful major gift officers are more attuned to what it takes to get the next gift, even if that gift is 3+ years in the future. For top donors the central efforts of stewardship may simply not be enough to keep their interest and inspire them to give more; philanthropists will notice the drop in interest in them once a gift has been secured. Your best fundraisers maintain their relationships with donors between gifts, communicating those messages of partnership and transparency that high net worth donors have shown repeatedly to  value.

Some food for thought after looking at these five categories is: (1) how do you know when fundraisers are doing the activities above that will make them more successful? and (2) how do you encourage these behaviors in the fundraisers that you already have? Over the next couple of weeks we will try to answer those questions.




Want to learn more? Part III(Six best practices top development shops offer to set fundraisers up for success)  is now up!