Six ways to evaluate whether you have the right fundraising metrics


You’ve implemented your fundraising metrics. How do you make sure they are working? Check out these six questions to identify what’s working, what needs adjustment and some things to consider when making tweaks to your metrics. And if you don’t have metrics yet, read through to identify some pitfalls to avoid during your design phase.


1.       Are your metrics are positively correlated with fundraising success?

This is job #1. Your fundraising metrics are meant to lead to fundraising success, and if they don’t, something needs to change. If metrics and giving aren’t correlated, then it’s time to evaluate whether you’ve chosen the right metrics: are you focused on the right activities? How well are you executing the tactics and strategies you are measuring with your metrics?

For example, let’s say you are tracking the number of face-to-face visits between your development staff and donors. The idea is that face-to-face visits correlate with giving, and that donors who have been visited are more likely to give big gifts. If this is not borne out by your metrics analysis, and face-to-face visits seem to have no relationship to donor giving, that raises several questions.

  • Are contacts which are not actually face-to-face visits (e.g. brief encounters at events) being counted in the wrong category? This would pollute your data, making it impossible to track the value of true face to face visits.
    Solution: Improve training on data entry standards. Create a contact type category to track event interactions separately from true visits.

  • Are development officers well-trained in using face-to-face visits as an opportunity to build engagement between people and your organization?
    Solution: If development officers are not effectively engaging prospects, then it’s time for some training and coaching. If they are effectively engaging prospects, then keep asking questions.

  • Are your development officers doing a good job of cultivating, but either failing to solicit or having low yield rates?
    Solution: If this is the case, the problem is likely not your personal visit metric, but coaching/training around solicitation strategies. Take a look at your solicitation metrics as well.

  • Are your donors more responsive to other forms of engagement besides personal visits?
    Solution: If other types of engagement are yielding more dollars raised, then focus on building on those strengths and build your metrics around those forms of engagement. In general, personal visits are the best way to yield large gifts, but you may be focused lower on the giving pyramid and/or you may have a unique donor population.

For some technical how-to ideas on quantitatively evaluating your metrics, check out how to use Excel to evaluate how correlated your metrics and your fundraising totals are.


2.       Is your team comfortable with the data entry required to track metrics?

As important as measuring your work is, actually doing the work is even more important. If metrics collection is getting in the way of getting the work done, then it’s time to reconsider your metrics. And if data entry is onerous, accuracy and completeness go down.

Sometimes it is worth collecting a little less data than you want to make sure that the data that you get is good. This may mean abandoning certain metrics, and/or simplifying measurements and data entry associated with others.

Additionally, take a look at the data entry support you’re providing, both tech tools and staffing. When it comes to capturing contact reports, voice memos are incredibly helpful. If you have a lot of information to enter at once, what kind of import capabilities does your database have? And do you have adequate data management staffing to alleviate some of the burden from your frontline fundraising team, who are expected to be spending time cultivating donors?


3.       Do team members find metrics helpful in prioritizing work?

One of the primary tasks of metrics is to keep your team on track and prioritizing the activities that lead to fundraising success. Are your metrics serving this purpose? If not, why not? Are individual team members taking time to review their own metrics progress? Is it easy for them to access this information? Are metrics a subject of conversation at one-on-ones with supervisors and team meetings?

Is your leadership team taking metrics review seriously? In a team environment, some individuals will be motivated by metrics simply because that is how they are wired. Others will not take metrics seriously unless the entire team, starting from the top, takes metrics seriously.

If your team members are reviewing their metrics, but still not finding them helpful in prioritizing work tasks, is it because they are overburdened? This is frequent in the nonprofit sector. We need to use metrics not only to identify that we are overwhelmed, but to do something about it. Your metrics should point to critical activities, and anything that is not one of those critical activities should be up for elimination or delay. Within reason of course: you can’t stop sending tax receipts, but you can consider whether the corporate advisory board you are starting is the best course of action when your number one current priority is to increase gifts from individual major donors.


4.       Are metrics are generating helpful conversations among the team and between managers and their staff members?

The reason you have metrics is to evaluate and create fundraising strategies and tactics. The best strategies and tactics will be developed by team effort, and metrics should drive productive conversations. If this is not happening, it may not be the fault of the metrics themselves. You may need to change the conversations happening between team members. See #3 above for ideas on where to incorporate metrics in regular conversations.

If team members are sincerely attempting conversations around metrics and are not finding those conversations to be useful, then consider changing your metrics to be more meaningful. It may be that your metric targets are too low – if you are blowing past them and have no need to talk about what’s working and what’s not working, you may need to aim a little higher. Or perhaps they are too high – no amount of strategizing is going to make magic happen, so your metrics are a source of discouragement. Or, maybe you are just measuring the wrong stuff altogether.


5.       How does the team think your metrics should be improved?

Team members should get a say in the metrics used to evaluate their work and success. This helps to prevent blind spots by bringing in a diversity of perspectives in personal style and job role. Ask your team about all aspects of metrics, from design to collection to evaluation. You can use items 2 – 4 in this list as a starting point for these conversations.

Very important: if you are going to ask your team for feedback, be prepared to listen. Have an open mind and take ideas and suggestions under real consideration. Sometimes it can be hard to hear criticisms of the awesome system you designed, but those criticisms will generally make it stronger and more awesome. And the process of listening will strengthen relationships among your team. This doesn’t mean you have to accept every suggestion offered, but it does mean that your team members will be more likely to adopt your metrics, since they have a voice in creating and maintaining them.


6.       Have your metrics incentivized unwanted behavior?

Are team members doing something new or strange that is improving their metric performance, but not within the spirit of the metrics? For example, are development officers filing useless contact reports lacking in any substantive information about relationship-deepening? Is your corporate and foundation relations manager filling out a lot of grant applications that are a poor fit for your organization?

This doesn’t necessarily point to a need to change the metrics, though it might. In the first example (poor quality contact reports), your team might need coaching around what constitutes a good contact. You may also decide to implement a quality review system for contact reports to make sure they meet your data entry standards.

The second example (poor quality proposals) may point to the need to change the metric. Number of proposals submitted may be incentivizing quantity over quality. It may be more valuable to focus on number or dollar value of closed proposals or yield rate, both of which are a better reflection of proposal quality than counting the number of proposals submitted.

In addition to addressing the behavior with your team members, ask yourself why they are engaging in this behavior? Do they feel trapped by metrics and unable to meet them without a little systems gaming?  Is this one person, or is it a widespread problem? The answers to these questions may point to some workplace culture issues that metrics alone can’t fix.


For more tips on designing your fundraising metrics, please check out Metrics: Set and Attain Goals for Fundraising Success, from Fundraising Nerd’s Make Your Donor Data Work webinar series.


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