Friday, January 15, 2016

Count von Count!

As we begin a new calendar year and close out 2015, we are constantly compiling reports and making our calculators sweat from usage. Or, for those of you excel formula whizzes, the sum function is humming! It matters how we count, what we count and the integrity of our counting. Many listservs are filled with, "so and so wants me to count this, but I don't think it's right." It is very frustrating when conflict arises over numbers. We all want to look good, we all want to be the best fundraisers possible, but not at the cost of our integrity.

I have a few common examples. Say for example you run an online giving day blitz, or partner with #givingtuesday to run a one day campaign. But then two days later your organization gets 5 or 6 nice checks in the mail. Someone might suggest that you add those checks into your total, saying that they were a result of all of the awareness. But are they really something you want to count in your totals? I would argue that these can corrupt your numbers and not give a true reflection of your efforts. I believe that you should follow the intent of the day, if it was an online and social effort then checks that come in the mail a week later can't be lumped in because they make you look better.

Here's another one. You're running your employee giving campaign and an employee comes to you and says, I'll give a dollar for everyone in my department so we can reach 100%. Yeah, no. Not only are these not voluntary gifts on those employees part, but it also doesn't give readers of the report a true gauge on your success. 

Or for those of you trying to raise alumni giving rates in higher education. Counting a portion of every paid alumni event registration as a gift. Not a good idea. Not only can this confuse your alumni, but a gift is a voluntary deed, you can't "force" a gift on someone just to raise your US News ranking. Imagine how your retention rates will look in the future and do you have enough event attendees to even change the percentage by a full point or two? Either way it's a surefire way to anger your gift processing staff.

These are only a few examples I've seen over the years. Fundraising isn't a game or a sport. It is about generosity and joy, not fiddling with numbers until they give you the result you desire. If you need further cautions against fudging math, look at the news stories of those who have, it's not good folks. You will lose the trust of the donors you do have. I always look for integrity in numbers when I work with fundraising clients, I would rather raise less money honestly than know that at the end of the day my numbers were living in the grey zone. If you need help on how to count and how to gain assistance, CAE, CASE, VSE, AFP and others have guidelines. In fact, there's a new book from CASE that can help you including a couple of chapters by me. Shameless self promotion here but it is a solid book from some of the best professionals in the country. 

What do you think of when you think of counting? What are some of the sticky situations you have been faced with? I welcome your thoughts on the topic.


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