Our Measures, Ourselves

Alternative metrics capture the complexity of corporate and foundation relations better than simply counting visits and proposals By Kenna Barrett

Add a Comment

What did you think about this article? The longer I spend in corporate and foundation relations, the more challenging it seems—or to paraphrase Socrates, the more I realize I didn't know. Experts and novices alike, our best efforts sometimes fail due to constantly increasing competition. Faculty can confound us by bypassing our offices. Donors seem ever more inscrutable. And many months of work can come to nothing if a company or foundation's leaders shift their giving priorities. Meanwhile, as the nonprofit community looks increasingly to business models, CFR professionals are under growing pressure to justify their activity quantitatively. In such requests, it's all too easy for development managers to focus on seemingly obvious measurements that actually bear little relation to success. In July 2004, CFR officers from the Ivy League institutions, Stanford University, and MIT gathered to discuss performance metrics at an annual meeting. The consensus was that the substantive differences between CFR and individual fund raising call for new thinking about how best to measure progress in CFR.
What is success?

Precisely what do we mean by success in the context of corporate and foundation relations? If it's simply overall dollars raised, CFR officers might concentrate their efforts on funding those campus projects most appealing to donors and ignore the less fashionable ones that nevertheless contribute to the institution's intellectual profile. What about achieving the lowest possible cost per dollar raised? This is an important value, but one easy to manipulate: Padding proposal

budgets with unnecessary items might increase efficiency, but it won't necessarily contribute to the institution's well-being. In the words of retreat participant Janet Averill, a development consultant and 20-year veteran of education advancement, the mission of corporate and foundation relations is "to maximize dollars raised for priority needs." True success is obtaining meaningful support for your institution; that is, support that meets the institution's most important needs. Meaningful support is harder to identify in CFR because foundations and corporations tend to give to projects, not just to institutions. Such restricted funds are only as useful as the purposes for which they are designated. Thus, an institution must establish its priorities before it can measure whether the CFR staff is meeting them. In my experience, CFR officers rarely receive a list of priority projects from on high, but we can work to discern the demand for project support. In 2004, our first year at Yale Law School, Mark LaFontaine, the associate dean for development, and I worked to gain an intimate knowledge of the school and to determine the demand for corporate and foundation funds. Conversations with institutional leaders and the faculty, as well as memos, workshops, and newsletters, help us learn about and prioritize projects that require grant funding. CFR managers can set benchmarks based upon the total unfunded needs of the institution, school, or unit they serve. Success is reaching those benchmarks.
How should we measure progress?

Just as the definition of success is different for CFR compared with other development efforts, so are the tactics for achieving success. Too often, development managers seize upon facile but ineffective metrics, pressuring staff to make more visits to grantmakers or to blitz the funding world with proposals—tactics that often have little relationship to success. Here's what doesn't work—and what can. Don't emphasize visits to grantmakers. "In individual giving, there is a much higher correlation between the number of meetings and giving," says Usha Pasi, former director of foundation relations at Yale University and now director of leadership gifts and associate campaign director for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. "With foundations, the proposal and the timing are key. Meetings are a component of success, but other factors are equally important." In other words, holding many meetings does not always augur success. Moreover, some funders have guidelines about meeting with grantseekers, and pushing too hard for a meeting could be counterproductive. In fact, meetings between CFR officers and funders might not even be necessary. Many grant officers would rather save time by talking by phone or responding in writing. Quite often, faculty members will have been in touch with the funder themselves. Many times, my role as a CFR manager is to act as editor, budget developer, or technical adviser on a solicitation that faculty members have discussed in depth with the corporation or foundation staff. Do emphasize internal activity. The CFR officers who participated in the discussion of performance metrics agreed that internal activity is as crucial as external activity to successful CFR solicitations. In other words, CFR officers need to build relationships not only with funders, but also with the faculty and staff members whose projects they're promoting. Good CFR officers spend many hours with faculty members and program directors describing how the grantmaking process works, explaining technicalities, developing prospect strategies,

and editing their proposals. In turn, faculty members can help the CFR officer understand and communicate their ideas better, and many have their own relationships with program officers. The CFR officer also needs to look for all possible points of contact between the institution and the grantmaker: deans, provosts, faculty, and even alumni. Some of the most important meetings a CFR officer holds are with internal constituents who have relationships with companies or foundations. One way to modify the "number of visits" metric to better reflect the nature of CFR, then, is to track not only the number of CFR officer meetings with grantmakers, but also the number of your internal meetings with faculty members and administrators to prepare them for funder meetings or site visits and their subsequent meetings with funders. Don't emphasize the number of proposals submitted. Under pressure, a development officer easily can submit lots of cold proposals. But such a strategy, which trades precision for quantity, is unlikely to work in the long run. A proposal must be tailored to a funder's mission to succeed. And when even the majority of well-thought-out proposals go unfunded, generic proposals have an extremely low chance of success. Further, the timing of proposal submission is not always in the development officer's control. Sometimes the institution is simply not ready to submit a proposal, or the nature of the funding program prevents an institution from applying. Kresge Foundation grants, for example, require a capital project to be at a certain stage of funding, planning, and completion. Do emphasize the number of solicitations advanced. Instead of looking simply at the quantity of proposals sent, CFR officers—and their managers—should focus on the cultivation process as a whole. As I am suggesting, the process includes not only visits and proposals, but also idea generation, research, and complex internal and external relationship building. Good CFR practitioners determine the best points of contact and facilitate those communications —and they should be evaluated on how well they do this, too. If the best connection to a potential corporate funder is an alumni employee who has a relationship with a major gifts officer, CFR officers should be evaluated on their ability to brief the major gifts officer and work together to cultivate that connection. In sum, assessment should focus on our ability to move cases forward. Stop focusing on the proposal and look at the solicitation holistically, at which other elements of the cultivation strategy you need to introduce and when. Averill calls this metric "number of solicitations advanced." Measuring this would involve many variables, but such a metric would be flexible enough to allow the staff to spend appropriate amounts of time on each activity needed to move the case forward.
Making the match

CFR work is content-driven to a greater extent than individual gift fund raising. The bottom line in making a match is that "the strengths of your institution need to intersect with the corporation's strategy for the present as well as for the future," says Patty Pedersen, Yale's director of university corporate relations. Evaluation models that just consider the development officer's contacts with the grantmaker— such as counting the number of visits or proposals—leave out essential internal components of success while oversimplifying the external piece. The criteria I've described here—"quality internal activity" and the more encompassing "number of solicitations advanced"—are two alternative measures to the misused yardsticks of visits and

proposals. With luck, a capable doctoral student soon will translate these measures into operational terms and test their role as markers of success. But more immediately, development officers need to take up the challenge of building these measures into their tracking systems, improving upon them, and sharing their improvements with us all. About the Author Kenna Barrett Kenna Barrett is director, corporate and foundation relations, and associate director, major gifts, for Yale Law School in Connecticut. She would like to thank CASE for providing valuable feedback on the survey. Comments Comments (0) Add a Comment