Fundraising Metrics Vs. The Natural Rhythms of Philanthropy

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

It’s been cited as one of the two most important quotes about business. The author is the great Peter Drucker.

It is also cited to justify any and all fundraising metrics. With all due and deep respect to Mr. Drucker, I would suggest a codicil. “If you over-measure it, you’ll really screw it up.”

Here’s what I observed yesterday on the driving range (the place where people practice golf). A man was fastidious about preparing for his practice. He laid down one alignment stick to guide the takeaway of his swing and another to do the same for the follow-through. He strung a string from the tee to the back of the tee box, presumably to guide the flight of his ball. He adjusted the club head on his driver to ensure the right degree of loft. But when he swung the club, it was without rhythm. In trying to guide his swing so precisely, he became mechanical and stiff. He was unable to generate the natural whiplike speed that accrues with a supple, rhythmic swing.

When we overmeasure or measure the wrong things, we render fundraising mechanical, awkward, unsatisfying, and unsuccessful. Our measurements often begin with the most self-serving and flimsiest of assumptions including that those labeled as prospects will:

  • Give because we asked
  • Give solely to what we deem important
  • Give without asking us to explain strategy or project outcomes
  • Give more generously than they have before

Those delusions are then parceled out in the form of fundraising goals and individual performance metrics. Missing from them are the immeasurably important elements of giving, including:

  • The wellsprings and depths of specific philanthropic passions
  • The timing and pacing of individual decision-making
  • What differences donors desire most to make
  • Experiences that guide philanthropic decisions and expectations
  • Whether they feel a part of you or apart from you

I wish I could remember who likened fundraising to waltzing. It’s apt. And the donor is in the lead. We can’t be good dance partners by clumsily blocking out our steps. The rhythm is so much more important than the precise placements of our feet.


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 

Related Resources:

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 months ago

Well said!

6 months ago
Reply to  Scott

Thank you, Scott.

Get smarter with the SmartIdeas blog

Subscribe to our blog today and get actionable fundraising ideas delivered straight to your inbox!