Choose Your Measures Wisely

Choose Your Measures Wisely

‘You Get What You Measure’

By Steven A. Reed

When you manage by metric as part of Lean Six Sigma, you emphasize speed, reduced waste and making the best use of staff and volunteer resources through a powerful data-driven system. In the development organization, “waste” and “defects” take many forms, including loss of time, active management of low potential prospects and poor deployment of key advocates, including board members. Using metrics and the powerful tools of Lean Six Sigma provides an invisible infrastructure to guide the development process while continuing to honor the importance of donor-centric relationships.

But, one note of caution. It is true that “you get what you measure,” so choose your measures carefully.  There are many from which to choose (see chart below).

Measures and metrics are sometimes confused. The terms are not interchangeable. In simple language, a measure is what will be quantified; a metric is the quantification, the “how much” or “how many.” For instance, how many hours is a measure. A metric is a measure of process activities or output. For instance, while “number of prospect meetings” is a measure, “10 per week” is a metric. When the actual number of prospect meetings in the time frame is compared with a target of 10, you have a measurement of performance.

While traditionally many metrics are finance-based, effective measures and metrics measure process performance against a range of internal or external customer needs. Developing measures and metrics usually follows a process of:

  1. Establishing critical processes/customer requirements;
  2. Identifying specific, quantifiable outputs of work; and
  3. Establishing targets against which results can be scored.

Metrics empower managers and employees to make the decisions and take the actions that they believe are the best to achieve their metrics. If the measures and metrics are chosen carefully, managers and employees will make the right decisions and take the right actions. But choosing the right metrics system is not easy. Metrics can have unintended and unanticipated consequences. Your fundraising program becomes exactly what it seeks to measure, so choose wisely.

Sometimes even performance improvement professionals tend to ignore high-value measurements simply because they can be harder to measure. To correct for such measurement inversion, you must test your measures to ensure you focus on what is truly important. The ability to be precise in certain measures can be a siren song. Vaguely right is better than precisely wrong!

When your healthcare system applies metrics, it changes everything. And, that, of course, is a problem as well as the solution. People don’t like change. And many aren’t wild about numbers, either. In fundraising, the objection sometimes is that all this somehow offends the essence of philanthropy, which is about authentic relationships and motivations for good.

Discussion of cycle time — the measurement of which is a core Lean principle — can result in a counterargument that fundraising is different than other processes.  The stated objection may be that relationship building is, as it is so often put, “a marathon, not a sprint.” Yet the time traditionally allotted for relationship building in major gifts fundraising often involves longer spans than those typical in the development of personal or business relationships.

The reality is that speed matters. Not hurry-up-and-ask speed, but the kind of speed that comes from clarity of purpose, well-defined processes, active listening, intensity of effort and continued focus on creating meaningful experiences for those prospects inclined to give.