Knowing What Metrics Can (And Can't) Tell You

main.jpgDid you know that the amount of mozzarella cheese consumed in the United States correlates to the number of civil engineering doctorates awarded? It is true – check it out here (along with many other spurious correlations).  Statistics of varying ilk are everywhere, from Facebook's massive experiments on users to how we calculate the poverty line. Honestly, those numbers can be scary, especially when they are about our own performance at work. But, statistics can also be helpful in staying focused on what really matters.

Take this article focusing on five metrics that can be used to measure the success of a fundraiser - a major giving officer to be specific… Caseload value, value retention, large gifts, return on investment, and connection to program are all relatively easy to track and calculate. By tracking those numbers, the giving officer can focus on what will make his or her successful in the job. For example, if you are tracking value retention, and from one year to the next there is a significant drop in funds raised from a certain group of individuals, it lets you key in on that group and find out what the problem is. Maybe they did not get enough attention from the officer or maybe they all are invested in the same mutual fund that tanked. You do not know the reason, but by using statistics, you can focus in on the problem and strategically work towards success. 

However (and this is a Sir Mix-a-Lot size “however”), if that same giving officer, or their manager, gets caught up on one of these variables without looking at the bigger picture, the officer, the manager, and most importantly the donors, can suffer negative consequences. Let us say the manager is concerned about large gifts; she would really like to receive at least one six-figure gift and there have not been any in a full year… Putting pressure on the giving officer to focus on that metric could lead to a few negative outcomes. He or she might neglect donors of lower short-term value (an action that could significantly affect the long-term giving potential of those donors), lose connectedness (and more importantly passion) for the organization’s programs, or fail to listen and understand donors’ intentions, missing a strong, long-term relationship.

Not all of those things would necessarily happen; metrics usually do not cause so many problems. But, if you start tracking something, you need to make sure that it is a number that matters and that it fits into a much broader strategy for success. Who knows, if you do it right, you might be as successful as the Boston Red Sox after their 2013 hire of Bill James. Then again, we don’t really know for sure if that hiring actually caused the winning…

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