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Metrics for Prospect Management

Client Advisory – July 22, 2011

Frequently, clients ask us to outline the best metrics for managing the important work of fundraising. Our first response to such questions is always, “why?”. We are not questioning the validity of the request, but rather the goal of the metrics. As with any field, there are infinite ways that activity might be measured. Consider the degree of detail attended to baseball statistics or to web analytics! With prospect management, the purpose of tracking usually falls into one, if not both, of the following two categories:


• We want to know what the future holds. Will we raise enough money?
• Our fundraisers are underperforming. How do we increase their activity?

In both of these cases, metrics can play a role. But the role may be different for each outcome. Over the last twenty years, most major-gift raising nonprofit organizations have invested in better database systems which enhance tracking of activities. Now, with all this data available, identifying the role of these metrics is paramount to the next evolution of a data-driven, integrated development program.

Will we raise enough money?
From a prospect management perspective, the key metrics for addressing projections rest in proposal tracking. I’ve often reduced prospect management to a shorthand of targets and paths. The target refers to how much we are planning to ask for a project, and when we are asking for it. The path refers to the way we intend to get to the target. Proposal tracking is a target-related assortment of metrics requiring ongoing maintenance. From the very point of the discovery call, a fundraiser should be able to outline a basic target with amounts informed by prospect research. As they proceed down the cultivation path, they will refine this number until the point of the proposal. The actual solicitation amount and funded amount usually find their way into most systems.

With all of this information, you will be equipped to quantify the aggregate capacity of the existing pipeline, the ratio of this capacity to initial targeting and ultimately to closed gifts. Equipped with dates along the way, you will have a good start on predicting your pipeline production.

How do we increase fundraiser activity?
In many ways, this question is not a metrics question at all. Measurement does not necessarily change behavior. However, positive results can stem from feedback loops as outlined in a recent Wired magazine article. A feedback loop gives a steady stream of information back to the fundraiser so they can more efficiently manage their own work and calibrate throughout the path. Metrics can help to identify gaps in behavior and serve as the source material for carrot and stick motivation approaches, but they do not change behaviors by themselves.

Motivating performance is rarely achieved from just tracking, instead it is necessary to learn what motivates each individual fundraiser and cater a system to them. This is one reason why talent management might be the most important new field to fundraising. From Daniel Pink’s autonomy, expertise, and meaning approaches to the Heath brothers’ riders and elephants, the behavioral economics world is clamoring for new ways of motivating performance. Watch for similar approaches in fundraising.

Bentz Whaley Flessner continues to research new and proven approaches to transform philanthropy with strong prospect management systems. Our skilled specialist teams can help you craft the right data-driven and ultimately people-driven path to achieve your targets. We look forward to hearing from you.

Joshua Birkholz
Principal, Bentz Whaley Flessner