Dashboarding: Measure what matters

Dashboards - in our nonprofit, fundraising sphere - generally measure one of two things. They measure donor performance (hey, how are those donors performing?) or they measure our performance, usually in terms of tasks. But does measuring our donors' performance - in terms of, say, average gift or number of donors this month - or measuring our performance - in terms of calls made or appointments kept or gifts closed - really give us a good picture of how we're doing on inspirational, aspirational forward movement?

I had a great opportunity to talk with a circle of development professionals at an AFP-Northeast Indiana meeting this week and in talking about dashboards and what kind of goals we set for ourselves and our organization, I wondered if we don't need to take a more imaginative approach to how we measure our work.

What if, in addition to dashboarding those typical things that development dashboards generally show us, we added some different categories of things to measure.

How about these?

Upward movement. Let's start measuring things that go up, movement in the right direction. Donors that increase their interest, not just their giving, the kind of interest we experience when donors contact us with questions, suggestions, congrats, etc. Events that attract new sponsors who come to us. New doors opening that we couldn't get through before. People asking to be added to our mailing list. How about some pretty arrows on our dashboard showing those note-worthy things?

Acts of gratitude. Let's measure how many times we as a staff extend genuine acts of gratitude toward our donors and friends. Heartfelt phone calls, a quick stop at their business with a logo mug, tickets to the next concert, a handwritten note telling them of something special happening for our clients because of their generosity. We all do these things but we're pretty bad about actually tracking them. If we're tracking these important interactions, we will, because that's how humans are, be more aware of needing to do them and be more aware when those pleasant tasks are getting crowded out by other things. Maya Angelou's great saying "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel." is the reason behind making acts of gratitude a top priority. Measure them.

New, blooming ideas. What would change if we started tracking new ideas brought to our department meetings? Not just ideas that eventually end up turning into something, but new ideas, period. If we kept hash marks every time sometime said, "Hey, I've been thinking that maybe we could . . . " and then had some fun reporting that this week, as a team, we brought four innovative ideas to the table. Keeping tabs on these new ideas makes certain people know we value their thinking power and willingness to take some risks. And if we're tracking those ideas, we can make sure we follow up until we know that they're not viable or decide that we should put some effort into fleshing them out more. Something incredible might grow from some one of those "I've been thinking . . ." sessions.

Learning experiences. For our nonprofit work to move forward, people simply have to keep pushing, learning, growing. Let's set some goals for learning opportunities that we take or create or design and keep them in front of us on our dashboards. Nothing in nonprofit work gets simpler so we all need to be upping our game, and not just through traditional nonprofit conferences, seminars, and webinars, but also through learning opportunities about our communities, our sector, the people we serve. If a development professional spends a day observing your organization's preschool program, that's a learning experience worth counting. Growing as people and professionals matters, so let's track it.

We're probably always going to have dashboards that measure average gifts, total annual fund contributions, progress toward our capital campaign goal, and our retention rate and that's great. Gotta know where we are in making the money that fuels the mission. But let's think seriously about measuring a new category of activities, ones that show we value innovation, inspiration, aspiration and creativity.

Let's measure what grows us.

Common People United