Why It’s Important to Know the Numbers
This week, I was having breakfast with an incredible leader. He owns three significant businesses in a metropolitan area and is one of the region’s most respected leaders, fully engaged in the civic affairs and direction.
One of his affiliations is with a university. He was sharing with pride the caliber of the university’s current and past presidents and how, while with different leadership styles, they have taken the university to another level.
Before these two presidents, the university had a leader who was not their caliber of leadership ability and vision. In fact, the immediate past president found a major campaign had goals reported to board members and the community without commitments to back these up. I typically call this funny money and smoke and mirrors.
Unfortunately, it is not rare in our field. Leaders who may have originally meant well begin to fudge or exaggerate numbers for either pride or because their job or increased compensation relies on it.
When I joined a large organization as chief development officer, I began to examine the funds being reported for capital and annual giving. I was shocked. They did not add up. For many reasons—unintentional and intentional—leaders at all levels were just making figures up, and what was reported was inconsistent. The capital figures were often double counted and most were seemingly focused on making the CEO and the campaign chair look good; the campaign chair had not been actively involved as a typical chair, however, he did serve on the CEO’s compensation committee.
A good friend of mine left a university when he was asked to fudge the annual giving number being reported to US News and World Report for rankings. Two years ago, we presented a study report to a college. The trustees had been led to believe that the college had raised $40 million in its last campaign. The only records we could find, with the help of the VP for advancement, put it closer to $20 million. When we suggested a new campaign with a $40 million goal, the board just couldn’t accept the fact of having a goal the same as their last campaign.
We have to not only safeguard the accuracy of number being reported, but how to peel back the layers and really evaluate them. To know the why and how of increases.
A large university recently reported increases in giving for the last fiscal year, seemingly giving a boost to advancement leadership who had only been there a few years. However, as you peel down the layers, the gifts were from longstanding university relationships that were mostly college based—from several college-based capital programs and from athletic fundraising. The university also had added scores of new advancement staff, and three years ago, had a presidential transition. The transition is important, because the last president was known for not being fully engaged, and advancement and several controversies caused scores of the institution’s historical donors pledging that they would not make a gift until he was gone. Over the last few years, they came off the sidelines, adding to the numbers.
In the first few examples, numbers were reported incorrectly. In the last example, you have to really examine the numbers and be specific to determine the cause and effect.
In any case, they all reinforce the need for an institution’s CEO, board leadership and chief development officer to carefully review the data on an ongoing basis and undertake careful analysis. Are there real increases, and why? What has the net been including investments in staff?
Have the right culture—a donor-focused culture of integrity that honors each gift by reporting it accurately—especially in fundraising programs that take on more of a sales and transitional approach (which won’t sustain), there is pressure and competition for getting credit. You need to hit goals. But the culture you build, or don’t build, will determine if you have a program of integrity that is built to last.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.