Setting a Fundraising Goal: “You Must Raise ‘X’ Times Your Salary In New Money”

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    A recent email asked: “What is a reasonable goal to ask a development person to raise for a non-profit organization?

    “Our Executive Director, a former college president, expects me to raise 6 to 8 times my salary in new money, which was the expectation at the college.

    “Have you heard of that concept before? I’ve been a Director of Development for a few organizations in the past and never heard of this!!”

    Almost always, when I learn of the impossible situations in which too many good development officers find themselves, I reply in ways intended to ease the pain as best I can and, when I can, offer soothing and workable ways to help them change the minds of their bosses.

    This is not, however, one of those instances. What this development officer is experiencing not only troubles me, but it makes me angry to see once again the gross short-sightedness of a supervising official at a non-profit seeking to impose the impossible.

    Now, I will calm down (only a bit) and tell you what I told this harried development officer.

    First, there is not, nor could there be, any reasonable expectation of someone raising new money based on x-times her or his salary.

    That expectation – edict – is based totally on ignorance regarding how money is raised for most nonprofit organizations.

    Unfortunately, I have heard of such numbers before. Different numbers, at different times, because they are almost always made up by people who know no better.

    Even more to the point of such an expectation being totally unfounded is the fact that the development office is to be “the” fund-raiser, either mainly, or solely. That is even worse, regardless of the way any goal is set – even a legitimate goal.

    Any boss telling the development officer that she or he must work to such an 8 to 10-times-money-raised number, as it relates to the development officer’s salary, needs to tell everyone else why and how they came up with that meaningless formula.

    For that matter, why ten times? Why not fifteen, or twenty, or five? You get the idea. There is no sense or order to such a ratio. And how could there be justification further to throw out an 8-10 salary-X range, where the difference could be huge in the amount ordered to be raised?

    Think of it. Let’s just say that being paid $50,000 for the year means that the development officer is required to personally raise $500,000. And this is to be “new” money.

    From where will this money come?

    The boss can make up a goal such as this one, but the boss cannot create prospects from phantoms. And, with the rush and crush to raise “new” money to meet the so-called goal, you can bet that some of the “old” (previous contributions) money would not be pursued with the same vigor. And, certainly, there would be little-or-no time to emplace a cultivation process to provide for future fundraising.

    Even so, what if the institution needed more than that particular salary-Xs amount to balance the books and meet its fund-raising goals? Would the institution then expect the development officer to raise say, 15 times the salary?

    Suppose, on the other hand, the institution could forecast that it would be in a position to balance its annual operational budget, thus able to meet a fundraising goal with less than the previously-set salary-Xs formula. Would the ratio then be dropped accordingly? I don’t think so.

    Therefore, when I am asked the “how-many-times” question for funds to be raised based on a salary figure, as related to what is average, standard, or likely, I reply that everyone involved must consider the extraordinarily wide range of non-profits’ actual money needs, the respective contribution potential possible to them, the means and resources available to raise the money, the experience and skills of the development officer – and a good measure of luck.

    When any institution’s leadership tells the development officer that she or he must raise an amount of money based on a salary-multiple factor, I would like to be there and ask that particular supervisor how and why such a number is presented. There could not be a good answer.

    As previously noted in this blog, fundraising is performed based on a plan derived from reality – not at the ignorant whim of an executive director or board member.

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