Dmitrydesign/Shutterstock
Dmitrydesign/Shutterstock

At the Parkland Foundation, the fundraising arm of a Dallas hospital system, the development staff has a goal of raising $15 million this year. The entire fundraising team, including support staff, will be evaluated on whether they meet this “universal fundraising goal.”

The foundation has another universal goal for the number of estate gifts that applies to all staff members, even those who don’t work on such gifts directly, says Kent Weimer, the foundation’s director of trusts, estates and planned giving.

The Parkland Foundation is unusual in this regard. Most nonprofit organizations don’t apply universal goals, choosing to evaluate their fundraisers individually.

Even if Parkland’s system is unusual, Weimer says, “I wouldn’t want to work in any other way.” The organization’s universal performance-measurement system, he adds, “creates a culture of cooperation rather than competition” among fundraisers. Weimer spoke during a recent (virtual) presentation on collaboration by fundraisers organized by the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners.

While conceding that Parkland’s approach may have merit, particularly for smaller fundraising staffs, some experts question the wisdom of using universal goals in fundraising.

One potential problem: High-performing fundraisers could be motivated to leave an organization if colleagues who aren’t pulling their weight get the same credit as everyone else year after year, says Robert Sharpe, a Memphis planned giving consultant.

In his experience, Sharpe adds, universal goals may be more practical in small development offices where leaders are better able to evaluate and reward the contribution of each development officer toward the universal goal.

Ron Schiller, a seasoned fundraiser and co-founder of the Aspen Leadership Group, an executive recruiting company, agrees that universal fundraising goals in larger fundraising programs could build resentment toward underperforming development officers. What’s more, “giving only team credit will just make it harder to identify poor performers or highlight their poor performance to human resources colleagues,” he says.

Schiller, who has led four different development operations in his career, like some other experts, favors a “hybrid approach” of giving full credit to everyone on the advancement team who has a role in generating a gift. At the same time, Schiller advocates reserving a bigger reward such as promotion and higher pay for stellar fundraising performance with donors over time.

For example, in addition to credit awarded to a major gift officer in higher education who facilitated a $1 million gift, the prospect researcher who initially identified the donor might also receive credit. Credits would also be awarded to the annual fund director who helped motivate the donor’s smaller gifts for years and the alumni relations director who persuaded the donor to attend one or more events on campus. In this way, everyone involved is recognized for their individual and important roles.

Meanwhile, if the major gift officer is successful in deepening relationships between the organization and its donors, the person who gave $1 million and others, that fundraiser might also be rewarded through promotion and/or salary increase.

“Once fundraising teams grow beyond the size where every person’s contribution is easily understood and managed,” says Schiller, “leaders need to look beyond total dollars given to understand the relative value of each individual gift officer’s contribution to the overall amount raised.”

At the end of the day, there may be no simple answer to the debate over how to rate team versus individual performance, as the right approach will always vary based on the particulars of the team and the organization. Perhaps Parkland’s universal goal system, however imperfect it might be, is an attempt to reflect a reality that is easily overlooked as we rush to celebrate fundraising superstars.

“Most often,” Schiller adds, “a gift is the result of a relationship built with a donor over many years and by many people.”

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