Measuring Fundraising Performance vs. Fundraiser Performance—Part 1



So I was doing a workshop about measuring fundraising results.

I pursue this topic regularly. I write about it. I present. I modify. I love the topic and I know where I want to go and what I’m hoping the participants embrace.

But guess what happened several months ago?

I was talking about measuring fundraising results. However, the participants wanted to talk about measuring the fundraiser’s performance.

We had a good chat.

And I promised that someday I would write about measuring the fundraiser’s performance. Because I haven’t done that before, and because far too many bosses and boards inappropriately measure the fundraiser’s performance.

So here goes. Part 1, and then Part 2.

Starting with distinctions that make a difference

Of course, I’m starting here, with some distinctions and definitions and general guidelines. Because these things matter a whole lot. And far too many organizations and their people don’t know this stuff.

And without knowing, how can you measure?

The organization’s fundraising performance and the fundraiser’s performance are not the same thing. Yes, the fundraiser certainly has an important role and responsibility for the organization’s fundraising performance. However, the fundraiser is not totally accountable for the organization’s fundraising performance.

Here are two examples from my own experience:

1. As the chief development officer of a regional theatre company, I was analyzing why our charitable giving was plateauing. I checked everything I could.

I then suggested that a possibility might be the dissatisfaction with the quality of the productions. At the time, our artistic director was distracted by his work at another theatre—and, frankly, maybe it showed.

The leadership team was annoyed by my observation. So we didn’t discuss that again. I left within a year or so. Of course, the topic did come up later, after I had gone; the truth will out.

The quality of the program/service does impact fundraising. I raised the issue. They denied the issue.

As the fundraiser, I’m a senior manager, part of the senior team that is supposed to be looking at the whole organization. Part of the team that is expected to examine the entire system and its various parts.

As the fundraiser, I am not restricted to fundraising only. As a professional, I’m bigger than my own narrow field or department.

2. Same job. Our annual face-to-face solicitation campaign with 500 individual and corporate prospects had been going well. But the solicitors of several top corporate prospects weren’t making these key asks. I kept nudging these three solicitors. They still didn’t carry out their responsibility or fulfill their institutional accountability.

I told my boss, the managing director, that I planned to take the prospects away from them and make the asks myself. I would do this graciously—no worries. My boss knew that I could do that. I assumed he would say yes.

But he didn’t. My boss said, “No. Leave them alone.” I responded that we would lose approximately $50,000, which I could secure by making the requests myself. And we wouldn’t alienate the non-performing solicitors, either.

But my boss still refused. So I told him, “Please put a note in my personnel file that I’m not accountable for this loss. And I expect that not to affect my performance appraisal.”

We lost the $50,000 that year. I was not penalized because it wasn’t my fault. There was no way I could find another $50,000. And, my boss knew full well that I had done all that I could to get these three men to make their calls.

Everything inside the organization affects fundraising. Things like the quality of the program/service. Recruitment process for board members. Loyalty strategies. Solicitation strategies. The way that the organization treats its customers, volunteers, and donors.

This is systems thinking. And even if you haven’t read the Great Fundraising Report 2013 (commissioned by Clayton/Burnett [UK], now called Revolutionise, and with research conducted by Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang—you can request a copy here), good professionals know that systems thinking matters. In fact, it’s pretty old news how much systems thinking matters.

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Everything outside the organization affects fundraising. Things like: Economy. 2008’s Great Recession. Corporate mergers. And so forth.

I sure hope that your organization didn’t budget for increased charitable contributions during the 2008 fiasco. That’s just bad planning.

What’s the difference between effort and outcome?

If the development officer tried as hard as possible to raise money but failed, what is the nature of the failure? Is it poor application of the body of knowledge and best practice? Is it lack of knowledge about body of knowledge, best practice, or contemporary issues? If that’s the case, then the fundraiser’s performance is lacking.

But what if the boss refused to send the direct mail letter that followed best practice and body of knowledge—because the boss just didn’t like the letter?

What if most board members refused to help with relationship building and refused to help with solicitation? What if several board members didn’t give a contribution?

What if the organization does not have a clearly stated policy that stipulates performance expectations required of all board members?

What if the fundraiser did all she could to enable board members to help? She provided guidance and tips. She modeled the right stuff and also tried to partner with the board members. The fundraiser did reminder calls and sent funny postcards and candy bars. And still, board members didn’t help.

How does the fundraiser compensate for that? How does a small—or even a large—development officer compensate for poor board member performance? And did the boss and governance committee make any changes within the board?

What happens when your organization is known for rather lousy customer service? Callers get caught in voice-mail hell. Donors complain that their names are misspelled. Where does the accountability lie?

Far too many organizations blame the fundraiser for issues that are not hers to control. Far too many organizations don’t allow the fundraiser to join in institution-wide conversations about issues far beyond fundraising specifics—but that nonetheless impacting fundraising.

Okay. That’s the end of Part 1: setting the context and defining the distinctions between measuring the organization’s fundraising performance versus the fundraiser’s performance.

And remember, setting the context, distinguishing important differences, helping others understand…all this is your job. That’s what professionals do. That’s what leaders do.

Don’t let your boss or your board hold you (or the development office) solely accountable for the organization’s fundraising performance. Help your boss and board understand the multiple dimensions and the distinctions that make a difference.

And don’t let them assign you goals and measures. You facilitate them. You guide them. You explain which measures matter and why.

See Part 2…linked here!


  • Aria Edry

    Simone, As a consultant who has wrestled with these institutional problems, with all sizes of clients, I can only thank you for this thoughtful, clear statement of what should be obvious, but usually isn’t. The nonprofit sector is plagued with systemic dysfunction, inept management, and unproductive territorial mindset which undermines real leadership and vision. The professional fundraiser is too often looked upon as the savior in the organization’s “come-to-Jesus” moment; instead of the NPO’s leadership including board members’ taking a tough, self-critical stance, examining themselves, Peter Drucker-style.
    I’m looking forward to reading Part II. All of us in this profession need to shout the truth from the rooftops! Thank you, Simone!!!

  • Simone Joyaux

    What a wonderful comment, Aria. Ah yes… systemic dysfunction, inept management, unproductive territoriality… You and I apparently think a lot alike!!!!! Keep pushing your clients – as I will mine. Keep pushing your colleagues – as I will mine.

    Best, Simone

  • Ian

    Great article, Simone! As a consultant for Nonprofit fundraising auctions, I speak to hundreds of development directors each year who ask a lot of these same questions. I believe we need a shift in the way we think about fund development and what it means in the scope of philanthropy by encouraging higher levels of engagement in fundraising across entire organizations. The development director should be positioned as a key leader within the organization who is integrally involved in organizational planning and strategy. These are issues that are so fundamental to fundraising success, that I’m afraid it is leading to an overall shortage of development directors in the NP sector as a whole. We recently published an infographic that touches on a lot of the same questions and challenges facing professional fundraisers… I would love your feedback! (SEE: Where are all the Development Directors? [INFOGRAPHIC]:

  • jessise13

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