It is important to have realistic expectations about what a start-up development office can achieve and to express these expectations as key performance indicators (KPIs) so that progress toward achieving them can be monitored.
It is also important to begin with an understanding, from the institution’s leader, of any operational ground rules you must follow (e.g., an agreement around how the development office makes best use of the vice-chancellor or principal’s time – by providing ‘just in time’ briefings, by giving as much notice as possible of events, etc.).
Key performance indicators
While an office is establishing itself, the emphasis of monitoring should be focused on levels of activity rather than on income.
A fledging office is unlikely to have sufficient mature relationships with prospects to draw in significant levels of income. However, staff in the new office can respond to targets such as:
- The number of people they are in contact with
- How often they contact people
- How often they meet with prospects
- The number of asks they make
There might also be some very specific KPIs relating to the particular circumstances of each individual office, such as:
- The volume of data ‘cleaned’
- The number of lost alumni ‘recovered’
- The number of staff recruited and inducted
- The number of internal engagement meetings held
- Progress toward articulating the case for support
- Progress toward establishing systems, processes and policies
- Setting a strategy for the development office
KPIs should reflect the individual circumstances and goals of each development office. They should be agreed upon with the institution’s leader and regularly reviewed to ensure that they continue to be appropriate.
As an office matures, financial KPIs become more prominent but these should not only relate to the value of gifts but to their future sustainability. For example:
- Total gift income (split into single gifts and regular gifts)
- Total pledged income (i.e., future gifts)
- Total number of gifts
- Total number of donors (subdivided relating to the amount they gave)
- Pipeline of donors
You may have circumstances where you have a fantastic total gift amount but it comprises three one-off gifts from three donors who are unlikely to give again. Looking at where the gifts come from as well as their value is a better indicator of the success and the future outlook of the office.
You might also want to split your financial reporting into ‘sources’ – annual fund, major gifts from individuals, corporate gifts, income from trusts and income from legacies. By doing this, you should be able to work out (at least roughly) the return on investment for each method of fundraising that will help inform your future investment strategies.
Any KPIs you decide upon should also be used as the basis for targets/goals for development staff, but these targets should be realistic. For example, as a newly appointed development director, you may be unlikely to fit in 200 donor visits in the first year while you are establishing the office and unlikely to have sufficient known prospects to visit. Fifty visits might be more realistic in the first year.
Talking to other development offices and looking at benchmarking data from comparable institutions should help you set targets and KPIs that are realistic and achievable.