I’ve been listing four trends to watch this year in the world of non-profits and major gifts. So far, I’ve mentioned that non-profits will increasingly value donors as partners, and non-profit leaders will value impact and outcomes more than the slim size of their overhead. Another trend Jeff and I believe we will see in 2015 is an increase in accountability and measurement in all areas of a non-profit: fundraising, program and management effectiveness.
We believe the donating public will demand more transparency and reporting on how their giving has made a difference. Governing boards and managers will also demand more accountability in fundraising performance and program effectiveness. And there will be an increase in ethical behavior, truth-telling, transparency and openness as donors continue to demand it, and general and social media expose places where it’s lacking.
This will have its effect in major gifts, as there is an increased expectation for MGOs to retain and upgrade caseload donors and account for their use of time. For the MGOs we work with this, will not be new behavior – because accountability and measurement is what our system of major gifts management is all about. But for many MGOs around the world, this could be an irritating experience.
These are the MGOs that work in what I call the “metric-less system” where there are no expected standards of performance except a yearly goal. There are no reports, there is no analysis, there is no measurement of cause and effect – of return on investment (ROI) – and everyone is just “doing the best they can,” taking satisfaction from swapping donor war stories and ignoring that actual economic value of those repeat donors is going down with every year that passes.
Accountability and measurement is a funny thing. The words hold different energy for different people. One might like them (or not) depending on the situations in which they are applied. I usually like accountability and measurement unless it is an area where I don’t want to be held accountable or measured.
And that’s what it boils down to, isn’t it? It comes to whether we really want to accept the pressure of someone else holding us accountable.
In major gifts (like in sales), if it’s done right, accountability and measurement creates safety and stability for the MGO and the organization, because the work of the individual is highly focused on the right thing – keeping good donors and, by keeping them, resourcing the organization’s programs. When all of that happens right, the benefits beyond the revenue are job satisfaction and security.
But sadly, Jeff and I and our associates encounter so many situations in our major gift work where MGOs are unwilling to be held accountable. The result is that donors suffer and go away, and the organization the MGO works for is left with the negative financial consequence of revenue going away.
This whole area has been an interesting study for me. Put very simply, major gifts work comes down to getting to know and serve a donor’s interests and passions, and managing the expression of those interests and passions in a mutually satisfying way that results in gifts being given for program.
Major gifts really is a pretty basic equation. Easy to understand and, yes, more complex to actually execute. It is in that complexity that accountability and measurement can suffer.
Here are the implications of this trend for you as a MGO:

  1. While it may be irritating at times, embrace accountability and measurement in your work. It will make you sharper, more focused and more effective. That’s good because as a result, you will be more professional and accomplish more. That’s a pretty good feeling to take home with you at night. Besides all the other good this will do for you, it is also good for your resume.
  2. Reframe accountability and measurement as something that is good for the donor, rather than making it about you. Aren’t donors what it is all about? Of course it is. And keeping them happy, fulfilled, hopeful and encouraged is the ultimate objective. So accountability and measurement are just tools to help you do that. It’s about what it takes to do THAT. It’s really not about you.
  3. It makes you proud of your profession because it elevates the work ethic and professionalism of major gifts – not only in the philanthropy sector but in the public square. This is all good.
  4. Finally, it weeds out the non-performers – those people who have been allowed to operate at the edge of things, those who waste the organization’s resources by “doing nice things” and accomplishing very little. It weeds them out. And that is good as well.

Here is what I have learned about this in my life journey: I have learned that the second I start to chafe at accountability and measurement, in any area of my life, both personal and professional – the minute I do that I know that there is a force outside of me basically saying: “Richard, you have been skating too long in this area. It’s time to get your act together and behave responsibly. So stand up, dust off, take a deep breath and do what you know you should.” And that is what I do. I feel (and think) so much better after I have done it. You will too.
Series details: Trends to Watch in 2015