6 ways to connect metrics with incentives and boost fundraiser performance

Metrics are just numbers—unless you give them meaning

By Haley Gfeller

The advancement office’s success or failure depends on major gifts like never before. To hardwire top performance, many institutions have moved toward formal MGO performance metrics that consistently drive outcomes.

Many advancement leaders spend months or years weighing which metrics they should use. Yet choosing the right metrics is just the first step. Accountability mechanisms and incentive systems that support metrics play a crucial role in eliciting top performance from MGOs.

Through our research, we identified six key principles that every advancement leader should follow to formalize accountability and create well-designed and cost-effective incentives.

Part one: Create KPIs with teeth

While some institutions have established a clear connection between performance and incentives (such as promotion, probation, and termination), most institutions have a long way to go. Performance management systems that lack consequences are dangerous both for underperformers, who hide behind a lack of accountability, and for overperformers, who lose momentum when they see their work go unrecognized.

A World Without Consequences

A World Without Consequences

While there are challenges to instilling accountability, it is vital to ensure that fundraisers feel pushed to enhance their performance. In our research, we found that best practice institutions hold MGOs accountable for their performance by doing the following three principles:

“Without a clear line between performance on metrics and specific consequences, why would anyone care about metrics?”

Carrie Collins,
University of the Sciences

1. Set up a trial period: Gradually acclimate your fundraisers to a culture of accountability with a one-year trial period in which you track metrics but do not evaluate staff members on them. During the trial period, you can collect performance data to set more realistic goals and targets for the following year.

2. Establish frequent check-ins: Instead of only meeting with your fundraisers at the end of the year in a formal evaluation, set up quarterly reviews to allow for midcourse corrections, constructive criticism, and praise for high performance. Besides providing regular feedback, these check-ins also ensure that MGOs are accurately inputting their contact and visit information into the database throughout the year.

3. Embed metrics into formal reviews: The single most important step in establishing accountability for metrics is integrating them into performance appraisals for fundraisers. Best practice institutions use point systems to assess performance and elevate transparency.

Part two: Identify the best incentives

Besides installing accountability mechanisms for underperformance, metrics systems should include incentives and rewards for stellar performance. While most advancement shops view salary level as the single greatest contributor to MGO retention, cash is not always king in the minds of MGOs.

EAB's survey of more than 1,200 MGOs revealed that while an annual cash bonus is important, most MGOs prefer recognition from their manager to a bonus. There are a number of ways chief advancement officers can show their appreciation for MGO performance, depending on the institution and preferences of their MGOs.

"What kinds of recognition do you prefer for meeting and/or exceeding performance goals?"
EAB 2014 MGO Survey

EAB 2014 MGO Survey

Below are three recommendations to take into account as you introduce incentives and rewards into your metrics system:

1. Tailor rewards to preference: Before handing out random gifts that you think your MGOs might want, ask your MGOs what they value and are interested in. Advancement leaders should observe their staff to better understand their underlying motivations and behaviors, then leverage that information to design incentives that adequately motivate fundraisers.

2. Give small but frequent gifts: Simple recognition and inexpensive incentives can be hugely beneficial in boosting MGO morale. Advancement leaders should recognize stellar performance in weekly emails and staff meetings and reward strong outcomes with small gift cards and university-branded memorabilia.

3. Calculate incentive compensation: More progressive institutions have moved to variable compensation models that weight a range of goals at different levels based on manager discretion. MGO compensation is augmented within a given range based on whether they met or exceeded their annual goal.

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Creating a Culture of Major Gift Officer Accountability and Informed Decision Making with Metrics

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