Fundraising Credit and How to Watch Out for Bad Behavior

You’ve established standards for evaluating your fundraising performance. And you’ve also set goals. Fundraising credit is what gets counted in your development officers’ performance to help determine if they are meeting, below, or exceeding goals.


As an institution, you must decide how to establish credit for gifts. Fundraising credit is one of the most debated topics in advancement. But it’s an essential part of the development officer role.


So, what counts toward a development officer’s fundraising goals when things are done in a myriad of different ways?


It’s not always a straightforward practice. And whichever approach your institution adopts, it’s essential to be aware of the unintended destructive behaviors you might be enforcing by choosing a certain practice.


Here are the unintended bad behaviors popular fundraising credit practices may be creating.


#1—Inflated Portfolios


One popular fundraising credit practice is when credit is given to a development officer for all gifts from their assigned portfolio. This might include gifts whether they did anything or not. The credit is given as soon as a donor writes a check, turns over stock, notifies, or completes paperwork on a planned gift—even if an officer did not have a conversation, they get the credit.


The unintended bad behavior that may result is inflated portfolios or assignment hoarding. Remember, even if they’re not involved, they get credit. As a result, officers may feel inclined to get as many people assigned to them as possible since that increases their volume. There is no intentional strategy, and fundraising becomes solely about playing the numbers game.


#2—No Collaboration


Another common fundraising credit practice includes giving credit to the assigned development officer. In this scenario, an officer must demonstrate they had an intentional strategy for that donor that led to the intended gift. For example, “prove it to me you were involved.”


The unintended bad behavior that may arise is a lack of collaboration. If development officers are forced to focus only on their own assignments, they won’t make time to help colleagues. They’ll likely fall into the trap of “I need to get credit; I need to show it’s part of my portfolio and identify my actions that lead to that gift. A collaborative environment falls to the wayside since only the assigned officer gets credit for what they can say they did.


#3—Lack of Focus and Intention


Finally, another common fundraising credit practice is when credit is given to the assigned development officer and all team members who contributed to bringing in the gift.


In a perfect world, this type of practice empowers collaboration. But the unintended bad behavior that may arise is that officers divert their attention by asserting themselves on as many (and any) donor opportunities as possible. In this scenario, simply being a member of the team ensures they get credit whether they did a lot, a little, or even none of the work. This may decrease the level of detail and attention an officer devotes to their assigned portfolio because it pays more dividends to attach themselves to multiple portfolios.


Not all unintended bad behavior will happen in each scenario. But it’s important to create a level of awareness of the unintended consequences in these common practices for assigning fundraising credit.


As you credit your development officers for their fundraising practices, use these four guiding principles for effective management.


  1. Recruit and retain quality development officers. Focus on individuals with a level of professionalism and integrity.
  2. Equip them with the resources and information they need. Insufficient tools to do their job will support the desire to take shortcuts or cut corners—potentially looking to “game” the situation. Development officers may be forced into survival mode because they don’t have what they need to do the job, even though they are expected to perform.
  3. Evaluate performance equitably. Be transparent; there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind on how they’re being evaluated.

Don’t overlook bad behaviors because of success. The ability to raise a lot of money should never excuse unprofessional or bad behavior. Keeping the “bad apples” around can permeate the situation. It will destroy morale in the long-term for only a short-term gain