Measuring for Success

Measure twice, cut once, my handy husband always says.  And it’s true; if you measure incorrectly, no matter how carefully you do the rest of it, you won’t end up where you want to be. With fundraising—and development professionals—measuring for success is vital.  But you have to be measuring the right things.

I don’t know how many times leadership of an organization decides to get rid of a development director because said director did not reach his or her goals.  And that’s not an invalid position—if:

  • The goals have been set correctly and
  • There has been an ongoing evaluation of the progress toward attaining those goals

More specifically, too often the development goals are dollar amounts. While it is important to understand what dollars are necessary, it is equally important to understand that this is the result of activities—and those are the things you want evaluate.

Many years ago, I started the new year with a huge gift—which came by way of a bequest.  It was wonderful to get that gift, but there was one guaranteed aspect of that gift—it was the last one we would ever receive from that donor.  That meant that it wasn’t a sustainable goal—next year we would have to find that amount of money elsewhere.  Nevertheless, it almost single-handedly put me over goal.  I could have taken the rest of the year off and gotten great reviews and had a happy boss.

The happiness would have been illusory,  of course.  I wouldn’t have done the things necessary to ensure ongoing success—and unless another extraordinary gift came in to save my bacon, I would go from hero to persona non grata.

I didn’t sit on my laurels.  I came from commission sales which taught me big time that I needed to identify a lot of prospects, get in front of as many of them as possible and interest them in what I was selling, to get a single sale.  And, I needed to keep my clients happy so they would both give me referrals and buy follow on product.

Fundraising is no different.

So yes, measure for success.  The numbers may differ, but the things you want to ensure that your development director is doing include:

  • Identifying new prospects monthly
  • Going out on qualifying calls
  • Cultivating those who qualify on a regular and ongoing basis
  • Asking them—appropriately—for a gift
  • Recognizing their generosity and keeping them connected to the results of their gift.

Measuring success means regularly evaluating what is going on and, where necessary, tweaking for better results.  If you do this, at the end of the year, that monetary need won’t be looming—it will most likely have already been met.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, build stronger boards, and coach staff to greater effectiveness.  Learn more at   While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.