James V. Toscano
Results, Results, Results
The director of a start-up nonprofit was livid, “We worked our — — off trying to do something real for AIDS victims, and all the donations still go elsewhere…to the big boys.”
What’s going on here? Certainly we’ve all heard it before, but why do, indeed, most of the major gifts go to the brand names?
History, tradition, elite boards…sure. Above all is predictability of results, and, even more to the point, the results themselves. Major donors don’t fund need, they fund results, or, sometimes, the strong promise of results.
Certainly there must be legitimate societal need. There must also be effective response to the need, and it is these outcomes that determine most major gifts to agencies.
Most societal need is well known, especially to those potential donors whose values shape their interest in the particulars of that need. Donors give to achieve fulfillment of values shared by the agencies in which they put their trust and dollars.
Harvard and Yale, for example, may not “need” all the money they receive, but they certainly have a long and illustrious history of remarkable successes, educating large segments of this nation’s distinguished leadership in many fields.
So do many of the other “big boys and girls,” although effective and efficient results need to keep being repeated, as witness the recent troubles of the Red Cross and United Ways.
Results pay back in longevity, growth, volunteers, donations and distinguished boards.
Now, more than ever before, nonprofits have an imperative to produce and measure results and use them as the major factor in attracting and retaining donors.
So, what specific, empirical outcome factors motivate prospective and new donors to become part of a longer-lived constituency of annual, capital and planned-gift major donors?
There is no magic answer. Each and every nonprofit needs to understand its “customers,” as well as its results. Each agency needs to use polls, questionnaires, focus groups, one-on-one interviews with appropriate constituency such as clients, attendees, audience, special groups, donors, Foundations, government agencies, staff, boards, public and whomever are important to the success of the undertaking.
Assessment and evaluation are where it’s all going. Anecdotes approximating good results may have carried the day before, and are still wonderful in letters and brochures for putting human experiences and faces onto statistics, but are no longer convincing of themselves.
Foundations and government have been asking for basic numbers for years and gradually realized that it wasn’t the input numbers that counted but the outcomes. Now, all donors will want a multiplicity of accurate “dashboards” and “scorecards” that actually show performance results with constituents.
Reliable measurement, to paraphrase an old saw, isn’t everything; it’s the only thing that will convince people to give and keep giving.
At about this point someone, usually in the arts, discounts measurement, maintaining that the “arts are ineffable.” and therefore not measurable. Having served as the president of an art museum and the vice president of another, I merely point out that we can, and have, measured the ineffable, easily.
Methodology of measurement has become quite sophisticated in the past fifty years, in both qualitative and quantitative aspects, and is easily available to us.
Value attainment scales are a case in point, used to assess the extent to which various individuals or groups think that specific values have been achieved. Respondents can readily tell us if what we do is “above their expectations,” “about right” or “below expectations.”
Using Likert scales, for example, those 5 to 10 choice scales ranging from responses such as “totally agree” to “totally disagree” with statements made about them, their experiences with us, their perceptions and feelings about our results, quality and a whole host of other variables that we feel are important, are increasingly critical in giving us the early feedback we need to assure we are meeting the expectations of constituents.
Similar to the quality movement in industry, donor centered development is about having the customer define what elements of our work are critical to quality. In business, those responses determine repeat business. In our field, they determine repeat donations, on which the entire development field is predicated.
Now the good and bad news. After you’ve done all of this, assisted by competent evaluators, or graduate students from a local university doing field work, or pro bono research by a local firm, the organization needs to take the results very seriously.
Research shows that only those receiving the highest rank, 10 on a scale of 10, 7 on 7, 5 on 5, can be truly considered as satisfied, as very likely to repeat their donation yet another time. The rest are in play!
Knowing the parameters of donors at risk is also actually good news if done prospectively, so that improvements in program, communications and/or cultivation can take place. That’s where the development professional can shine!
A Numbers Game
So, it’s becoming a numbers game, especially with the younger generations, who will gradually inherit all of those trillions we keep reminding each other about, as well as increasingly constitute the backbone of annual support over the next twenty years.
And, if it’s a numbers game, we can play, and we can play brilliantly, unafraid of less than superlative outcomes, which we will use as the basis for program and process improvement.
Organizations that assess their work, know the expectations of their clients, regularly ask constituency and donors to evaluate them and their work, and act on this information to produce improved outcomes attract public interest and prospects.
Agencies that understand not only their own achievement, but also the values, motivations and expectations of their donors, are those few that experience long-term growth and success in development.
All of us want to do the right thing; that’s why we stay in the nonprofit world. These new techniques will make it possible to be more successful in program, to understand that it’s the customer, the client and the donor who increasingly call the shots, and, as a result, that we can be much more successful in our development efforts, add to our own quantitative skills, and have great results of our own.
This article was contributed by James Toscano and Dania Toscano Miwa, of Toscano Advisors, LLC, http://thegoodcounsel.com.
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