In our 2016 study Making Meaning of Metrics, we concluded that there is no such thing as “magic metrics” when it comes to performance management schemes for major gift officers (MGOs). Formal metrics should only be selected with your advancement shop’s culture, prospect base, and other variables in mind. It is ill-advised to respond to shop performance by piling on reflexive metrics in a reactive way. Metrics should also vary across individuals or teams to account for differences in fundraising experience, portfolio size, and as the MGO’s additional responsibilities.
Advancement leaders must be flexible with the metrics they use for MGO performance management. We know from experience that MGOs, especially those who are new to an organization, will become more productive over the long term if they work under a stable set of expectations. Changing metrics frequently may cause confusion and unintended outcomes.
To ensure a smooth transition to robust performance metrics for your shop, we recommend the following two approaches:
- Shop-wide trial period: Introduce new metrics in conjunction with the introduction of new data reporting or tracking processes. Offer to put the metrics into place on a one-year trial basis where the metrics are reported but staff are not evaluated on them. The trial period can allow for feedback on how metrics affect fundraising behavior, and the newly-tracked data can help establish more accurate target levels.
- New-hire trial period: After introducing MGO candidates to performance metrics during the hiring process, consider offering a one-year trial period where metrics are tracked but do not impact performance evaluation. This provides an opportunity for new fundraisers to onboard and acclimate to the new role without the pressure that formal metrics carry.
MGO performance metrics can take on different shapes and sizes. They can be individual or team-based, have numerical thresholds or ratios, or be dollar-based or point-based. For example, Northern Arizona University used the proposal close probability to estimate dollar goals and Freed-Hardeman University adapted a points-based system from a local TV station. Advancement leaders must decide which incentive scheme makes sense for their organizations given their team culture, donor base, and other factors.
Perhaps the single most important factor for the success of a metrics system was not the system itself, but its level of staff buy-in. To achieve optimal staff buy-in, advancement leaders should consider gradually acclimating their fundraisers to an environment characterized by formal metrics.
By thoughtfully aligning MGO performance metrics to the division’s strategy, providing flexibility for unique cultures and individual profiles, and committing to a system for the long term, development leaders will begin to see a measurable rise in the productivity and efficiency of their fundraisers.
More resources to enhance major gift officer productivity
Learn how colleges and universities can enhance MGO performance management by setting expectations, instilling accountability, and utilizing analytics. Download the study.