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You Can't Manage What You Don't Measure

Metrics make a positive difference in major gifts work

Metrics are a blessing, or a curse, depending on your point of view. The most successful metrics programs are viewed as carrots that give honest credit for hard work, encourage the right behaviors, and get field officers out of the office as much as possible.

In the last four years at Rochester Institute of Technology, we’ve built a set of metrics for major gift purposes that are easy to record, to track and to report out to both field officers and management. There are only four basic measures:

  1. Qualifying calls;
  2. Visits to cultivate, solicit or steward donors;
  3. Number of asks at the minimum major gift threshold ($50K+); and
  4. Individual fund raising goals.


They are all tracked by entering contact reports into our donor data base and do not require any separate record keeping. That’s a real plus for making them work.

Qualifying Calls

Qualifying calls are employed to uncover both capacity and inclination. They spring from objective data that any non-profit can work from using proprietary wealth screening tools and other capacity analysis tools that are germane to development work. The purpose is to find those “diamonds in the rough” that have gone unknown for years, or to get acquainted with current donors who show a propensity to give through their regular, though small, giving habits.

We have found that 25-40 qualifying calls per year, for each field officer (depending on their portfolio, tenure in their job, management responsibilities, etc.) is an essential basic expectation to uncover new blood. Major gift officers at RIT now accomplish between 400-500 such calls collectively every year. And it’s already paying dividends in new gifts. Long term, it will really ramp up what we’re able to raise from alumni, in particular.


Visits are intended to deepen a relationship, discuss a project or a program, ask for a gift, or thank a previous donor for their support. Just like the best qualifying calls, it’s the face-to-face interactions that make the measurable difference to uncovering motivations, wishes, dreams and hopes. Visits are the heart of effective major gifts work. We strive to each make at least 100 such calls each per year, in person, nationwide.

Number of Asks

To encourage a focus on asking, testing for closure, and negotiating final agreements, we assign a specific goal for the number of asks expected of each field officer based on their portfolio, their length of service, and their professional experience level. In the last year, we increased the major gift threshold definition from $25,000 to $50,000. A big, and much needed leap ahead for us. We achieved a 52% increase in the number of gifts at $50,000 or more, compared to the prior year. It was the largest number of such gifts recorded in any year outside of campaign mode at RIT.

Individual Fund Raising Goals

While we still keep a close eye on the total gift revenue coming into the university and to each of its colleges and programs served by a field officer, we decided last year – for the first time – to assign an individual fund raising goal for each field officer based on portfolio mix. It was a negotiated goal setting exercise between each field officer and the Associate Vice President for Development. Each field officer signed a goal document to indicate their intent to meet their goal.

We tracked how well gifts closed stacked up against goals as the year progressed. We also enhanced collaborative behavior by giving 100% credit for “assists” where another field officer played an instrumental role in bringing a gift to closure. Each field officer knew exactly what was happening based on their personal work, and also, how much “extra credit” they were getting for helping others to close gifts. Collaboration is at an all time high.

Interestingly, for the field officers who have been in their jobs for five years or more – which is an important threshold to reach in terms of productivity – the outcome was outstanding. Five out of six surpassed their goals, some by large margins, and the smallest return was 99% of goal. Together their efforts produced 156% of goal for major and principal gifts for the year.

Patience and Perseverance

RIT’s current metrics are the outcome of three years of trial and error based on suggestions and recommendations made by the Development Collaborative team at Eduventures in Boston. They completed benchmark research with 40 universities nationwide and the best practices formed the basis for starting the focused metrics program at RIT.

Metrics are producing increased productivity, greater satisfaction and clearer expectations for field officers across the board. It’s becoming a true win:win for both field officers and management alike.

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