Performance Metrics – Beyond The Visits

In her landmark college text on fundraising, “Effective Fund-Raising Management”, Dr. Kathleen Kelly - Winner of the 1998 Staley/Robeson/Ryan/St. Lawrence Prize for Research on Fund-Raising and Philanthropy - states, “The third most important issue facing fundraising - following the need to define who is a fundraiser and to reduce misunderstanding about philanthropy – is how the function should be evaluated.”  Performance Metrics

For decades following the formal establishment of development as a staff function in the 1970’s, managers have struggled with how to establish performance goals that helped fundraisers successfully reach the objectives  of their nonprofit organizations.  Because fundraising is not an exact science, and because people make major philanthropic commitments for their reasons and not the organization’s (that’s why we call them gifts), most fundraising managers established target dollar goals with the charge of “Get out there and do the best you can.” 

Since then three things have happened to change that approach: 1) abuse in fundraising costs and gift counting has triggered greater scrutiny of the nonprofit sector at the state and federal level; 2) major and planned giving development positions focused on working with high value prospects now command the highest non-management salaries and are in great demand; and 3) the Great Recession has forced boards and managers to pay more attention to efficiencies (return on investment and dollars raised per budget dollars spent) which has created greater emphasis on performance metrics. 

Unfortunately, despite these changes, many nonprofit managers have established performance metrics for gift officers focused solely on visits, proposals and dollars raised.  That means that an effective major and planned gift officer who is involved in many important prospecting and cultivation activities would only get credit for about 20% of their work each month.  These metrics then become punitive and discouraging, not motivating.

Core Principals of Major and Planned Giving Programs

Harvard University Director of Training and Education Anne T. Melvin helped the University’s vast major and planned giving program develop new performance metrics by establishing these core principles:

  • Align the development officer’s personal metrics with goals of the organization and its development office

  • Only incentivize activity that is in a development officer’s control

  • Use carrots and not sticks to motivate  

Obviously the needs of an immature or emerging development shop are much different than those of a mature program that raises millions of dollars each year at a large institution.  So the first job for leadership is to determine who you are and what you need – beyond money.  Young and emerging fundraising programs will place much greater emphases on identifying, qualifying and engaging new prospective donors so performance metrics should be established to reflect that activity.  Mature development offices will focus much more on significant moves for each fundraiser’s Top 25 high value prospects with a greater percentage of activity devoted to solicitation. 

Moving From Ignorance to Investment

While an individual’s final giving decision is not in a development officer’s control as stated earlier, American philanthropy has been around long enough that we now have a great deal of research available on why people make large gifts.  These decisions are all fundamentally based on an individual’s belief in the mission of the organization and their desire to make a difference and leave a legacy based on their own personal experiences.  Therefore, each development office should define what it considers to be the activity, in the development officer’s control, that would best move a prospective donor along the emotional continuum from ignorance to investment.  This activity, termed “significant moves” in the fundraising industry, could consist of the following:

  • Prospect visited for the first time – the “discovery call”

  • Send more information to prospects about their interest areas

  • Prospect attends an event

  • 2nd visit

  • Prospect hosts an event

  • Meet the CEO

  • Join a committee

  • Meet with another volunteer

  • 3rd visit

  • Tour the campus/facility

  • Solicit

  • Send a proposal

  • Close the gift

  • Apply appropriate recognition

It is also important to define things that are not considered significant moves which would include things like – sending a holiday card, sending an email blast along with 200 others, chatting with prospect at an event, sending a hand-written thank you note, etc.

Finally, in order for development officers to be rewarded and motivated by their personal performance metrics, all significant moves must be entered into a central fundraising database system.  This requires the diligence of the development officer to enter the information consistently and on time and it also requires some time from a database manager or prospect researcher to monitor this input and to generate reports for managers to use in quarterly update meetings with fundraisers.  Any performance metrics program will die a slow death if this database use and support is not put in place.

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Campbell & Company is a national consulting firm offering advancement planning, fundraising, communications and executive search services for nonprofit organizations in the education, health and medicine, arts and culture, environment, social service, and professional society fields.

Through thirty-seven years and thousands of engagements, Campbell & Company has helped nonprofit organizations anticipate and manage the challenges of the philanthropic marketplace. The company maintains offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC. For more information, please visit