The Fundraising Executive

THE CASE FOR ACCOUNTABILITY: Why I Love It and Would Feel Lost Without It

By Eddie Thompson | January 6, 2015 | Development Management

I love accAs unusual as it sounds to say, I love personal accountability. Consequently, I’m committed to a process of carefully tracking and analyzing where I’ve invested my time, talent, and resources. Without that process, I’d feel a bit lost. In fact, the more accountable I am, the more secure I feel in relationships with God, family, and friends; with clients and donors; with Thompson & Associates’ staff and associates. Realize it or not—believe it or not, your private and professional relationships are defined and sustained in the context of accountability.

I have the privilege of working with a lot of wonderful nonprofit executives. My sense is about a third of them diligently track personal and professional performance metrics. Another third are less focused on measurements, preferring to (so to speak) “fly by the seat of their pants.” A final third avoid accountability at all cost, having never developed the love or the habit of it.

Without a solid commitment to monitoring staff performance metrics, the process of fund development and donor cultivation is often haphazard and sometimes chaotic. Those organizations rarely succeed over the long-run [See: WHAT’S ON YOUR DASHBOARD? Identifying Your Key Performance Indicators].

Below are a few of the reasons why I love accountability.

1. We Need to Know that Others Know. I just finished working on my end-of-year reports for Thompson & Associates’ clients—nonprofit institutions with executives who sometimes don’t realize the potential impact of what we are doing for them. They’re not part of our confidential estate planning meetings, and they often won’t see tangible results of our efforts until a donor dies.

Realize it or not—believe it or not, your private and professional relationships are defined and sustained in the context of accountability.

Those client institutions have placed a great deal of trust in us, and (without betraying donor confidence) I cannot wait to show them what we have done —the number of presentations, estate plans completed, and results for their organization and others. I want to show them in as much detail as possible, what we have been doing with their investment. We feel responsible to give an account to client organizations, not just for the future value of planned gifts, but for the diligence with which we have sought them. In other words, not just their proceeds but our process.

2. Great Fundraisers Love Accountability Metrics. In fact, the best ones are usually disappointed with supervisors who don’t conduct regular performance reviews. On the one hand, it’s gratifying to think that organizational leaders trust you to the point that they don’t feel the need to check up on your progress. However, ongoing accountability metrics provide you the chance to show your efforts, success, insights, and suggestions for improvement. In other words, it’s your one chance to say what you think and brag on what you’ve done. The best fundraisers would welcome reviews every month or even every week.

Supervisors who dread or avoid staff performance reviews are doing a disservice to both the organization and the staff. It’s as if they are taking for granted the hard work going on around them. The lack of staff accountability sends a bad signal. It implies that the boss either doesn’t care about what’s going on, doesn’t understand what is going on, or is trying to hide what is going on.

3. If You Can’t Account for What You Are Doing, You Can Never Complain About Having Too Much to Do. The overwhelming workload at one of my early fundraising jobs was (and is) typical of most nonprofits. Also typical was that much of that activity had nothing to do with fundraising. And so, with detailed time and performance records in hand, I went to my boss and laid out the scenario, explaining exactly how much time I was spending on each activity. I said to my old boss,

“I’m happy to continue being responsible for each of these people and projects. However, combined they seem to require 150% of my available time. So, I either need advice on how to be a lot more efficient, or I need to choose between one responsibility or the other. Should I focus on this or that? What’s your wish?”

I see this all the time. Major gift officers are involved with so many events, committee meetings, and special projects that don’t directly relate to fundraising and donor relations. And the stress they feel has a lot to do with being held 100-percent accountable for revenues with 30 percent of their time allocated to fundraising.

Sometimes wearing many hats is unavoidable. Sometime, however, stress from an unreasonable workload is the fundraiser’s own fault. Unable to give an exacting account of his/her time, there’s no performance data on which to base an appeal. In such cases, high accountability is not the cause of stress. It’s the lack of personal and professional accountability that prevents employees from dealing with it.

The stress (fundraisers) feel has a lot to do with being held 100-percent accountable for revenues with 30 percent of their time allocated to fundraising.

It was an eye-opening conversation for my old boss. Supervisors don’t have time to track employees’ time for them. Consequently, they often have little idea of what their employees are doing or the time requirements of each task. His reply was, “I want you out there raising money!” The results: my boss and I began working together to get me more focused on my primary task—fundraising.

4. Ongoing Performance Metrics Alerts Organizational Leaders to Missed Potential. This month, we consulted with a nonprofit that has 626 donors who have given anywhere from $250 a year to $5,000 a year. However, none of those donors are in the portfolio of a gift officer, and no one has ever called on any of them. That one performance metric revealed several challenges for that client organization:

a) They were doing fairly well as they were and didn’t recognize or feel a pressing need to cultivate those donors.

b) Existing staff were too involved with other responsibilities to follow up on these donors.

c) They had no staging plan or formula for bringing on additional development staff.

I see this happen frequently. The organizational leaders are not reaching their fund-development potential and are settling for less.

5. Metrics Help Organizations Know When and Who To Hire. Accountability metrics should enable organizational leaders to know when regularly missed opportunities are greater than the cost of employment for additional staff.

It’s important to have sufficient staff to maximize fundraising potential, but it’s even more important to hire the right kind of staff. One of the primary things I want to uncover in an interview with potential fundraising employees is if they are comfortable with high accountability. I don’t just take their word for it but look at their employment history. I press the issue on accountability and watch their body language.

I referred earlier to three types of development professionals and how they relate to personal and professional accountability—those who loved it, those who tolerate it, and those who hate it. Obviously, you never want anyone on your team who hates accountability. They’re often trying to keep others from discovering what they are doing or not doing. The toleraters are those willing to be held accountable if their supervisors insist. The lovers are those who hold themselves accountable even if no one else does. These are prime candidates for your team.

AS  HOKEY AS IT MAY SOUND, when I go to bed at night, it feels good to know that I’m doing a good job, that I’m making a difference at the children’s hospital, at the inner city mission, or whatever organization I am serving. It doesn’t matter if anybody ever evaluates my performance other than myself. I know when I’m making a difference and know when I need to do better. That’s why I love accountability and embrace it wholeheartedly.

Eddie Thompson. Ed.D.

Copyright 2015, R. Edward Thompson