Setting Metrics for Advancement Success 101

In 2003, I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 20-something ready to take on the world. My first order of business: Get a job. After searching and applying and interviewing, I finally landed my first job as a “Home Wellness Consultant.” Translation: Selling vacuum cleaners door to door. Yes, that’s still a thing.

When I wasn’t scouring diners in search of the best pork loin sandwiches and homemade pies, I was laser-focused on being the best closer the company had ever seen. At first, however, it didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted. The problem was, I never got myself into a position to close a sale. How was I going to be a great closer if I never got a chance to close? It was a good lesson for an over-anxious salesperson.


I reassessed my goals and looked at the parts that were essential to achieving the desired results. If I didn’t knock on a door, I didn’t get to do a presentation. If I didn’t do a presentation, I didn’t get to close a sale. If I didn’t close a sale, I didn’t get paid. Instead of just relying on a tacky suit and my oh-so-suave demeanor, I started measuring activities and numbers that led to success.

In time, I learned that I made a sale in 1 out of 3 presentations. I was able to make a presentation with 1 out of 2 people who answered the door. I got someone to answer the door in 1 out of 12 doors I knocked on. In sum, I was going to have to knock on a LOT of doors. This wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the fact remained: I wasn’t going to close as much without putting in the groundwork first.

As fundraisers, of course we’re looking to “close” the lifelong support of donors. Just as with my early vacuum-selling endeavors, it’s a worthwhile exercise to start at the end and work backwards. What are the activities that put us in the best position to be successful?

To start this exercise, I started from the individual areas in advancement and focused on how they help us achieve overall team goals. For each area, here are some questions to ask:

Annual Giving, Alumni Relations, and Planned Giving

How are we best engaging alumni? Is it:

Are we reaching all of the audiences that we need to engage? Are we asking for their support in the best arenas and in the most impactful ways? What do our best donors/champions look like, and who else looks similar?

Major Gifts and Prospect Research

Do the portfolios of our contact officers contain the best prospects? Are we keeping the portfolios constantly fresh with new up-and-coming prospects or prospects that were previously off of our radar?

How well are research efforts converting identified prospects into relationships? Are there limitations in this process? Are groups of prospects clogged in the prospect pipeline?

Are we submitting a comfortable number of proposals, and are we getting the acceptance rate that we need? (Or, are we aiming too high or too low?)

After taking some time to dig into these questions, it’s time to start setting metrics. Keep these pointers in mind:

1. Step away from the keyboard.

This isn’t a matter of shutting yourself in your office and emerging when you’ve decided on metrics. The entire team needs to be involved in this process. Get away from your desk and have discussions with your coworkers. Advancement services needs to have an understanding of the role that each division in advancement plays. Do those activities add up to the entire goals of the department? Know your programs!

2. Take note of where you are and where you want to go… and who is already there.

Discuss trends, measurements, and observations from preliminary analysis.  Once you’ve developed a hypothesis of what makes your advancement efforts successful, record where you are in those efforts at that point in time. Using this baseline, you can take the suggestions of others, particularly if you’re starting a metrics-driven program from scratch. Reach out to peer institutions, fundraising groups, and even software partners for additional thoughts and best practices.

3. Follow through and share successes.

Deliver the metrics regularly to those who need them the most… and to everyone invested in those metrics. Regular reporting of your progress will help keep everyone on track. Find ways to make reporting, tracking, and using this information very easy for the end users. Share the story within the data!

4. Edit as necessary!

Maybe one of your initial assumptions didn’t have an impact on your end result. (i.e. Wearing your lucky blue tie didn’t have a bearing on hitting your goal.) Well, change it! Reassessing useful activities should be an annual practice. Dial it in! Discover new insights and areas of opportunity.

Using insights from data isn’t something that requires the services of a $100,000+ / year data scientist. If you know your programs, set goals, and invest effort into making them a part of your daily routine, you too can start benefiting from the use of metrics!

What role should advancement services play in fundraising today? Check out Matt’s last post, “Advancement Services in the Age of Big Data.” 

Matt Gullatta
is the Director of Advancement Services at Ashland University. Since becoming an Advancement Services professional in 2007, Matt has made it a personal mission to make data accessible, reliable, and fun! You can find Matt on Twitter, likely chasing down Big Data and Analytics trends or posting animated gifs.

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