Overcoming Measurement Objection 2: TG measurement is subjective

We’ve proposed that measurement in Transformational Giving (TG) must measure the evidence of the work of Christ in our champions and partners in relation to the specific cause God has given us to champion.

Now we’re systematically working through objections to that idea, focusing today on the contention that such measurement would be too subjective or soft to be useful.

On the face of it, that objection makes a lot of sense and is not as easy to dismiss as some TG practitioners might think.

After all, in traditional/transactional fundraising (ttf), gross income–the 800 pound gorilla of all measurements–may be a lot of things, but it’s certainly not subjective.

Or is it?

Fascinatingly, the very problem with using gross income as an “objective” measure in TG is that it is anything but objective!

Here’s why:

  • Remember that in TG, as we noted above, we are seeking to measure the evidence of the work of Christ in our champions and partners in relation to the specific cause God has given us to champion.
  • Our focus must thus be at the level of each individual partner and champion, not our organization as a whole.
  • A measurement like gross income, however, is an aggregate measure; it doesn’t measure growth or decline on an individual basis.
  • As a result, gross income taken on its own obscures what we are trying to measure, which is individual growth; that is, our overall income may be going up while the majority of champions and partners whom we are coaching either remain stagnant or actually decline in relation to the cause.

It’s not hard to envision a multitude of scenarios in which this result (gross income going up while champion/partner maturity in relation to the cause stagnates or declines).

Take for purposes of simple illustration:

  • A year in which an organization received a big estate gift, or
  • A year in which one partner or champion made a substantial gift that significantly raised gross income, or
  • A year where we simply sent out twice as many appeal letters.

In each of these cases it would be erroneous to say, “Gross income is up; our partners and champions must be maturing in the cause”. That judgment is not only subjective (i.e., it’s an opinion, unsubstantiated by factual analysis), but it will quickly strike every thinking person as clearly wrong.

That’s why even though Transformational Giving (TG) would be expected over time to increase an organization’s gross income (i.e., as more champions and partners grow comprehensively in relation to the cause, one dimension of that growth would be in the generosity and effectiveness of their giving in relation to the cause), gross income can never assume the measurement primacy in TG that it has enjoyed in ttf: It simply can’t reveal to us what we need to know, namely, at an individual champion/partner level, who is growing? And why?

The latter question–why–is one that ttf simply could care less about, yet it’s central to TG.

For example, there are good kinds of growth and bad kinds of growth when it comes to giving in relation to the cause. If I simply transfer my giving from church to nonprofit–which Barna indicates is happening to a staggering and accelerating degree–ttf won’t be able to detect this. It will simply celebrate that income to my nonprofit is going up.

Sum it up and say:

The very problem with gross income as a measure is its subjectivity. It simply doesn’t tell us what we absolutely must know to operate a TG development program. And it obscures vital trends in giving until they are too late for us to address.

This is exactly where we find ourselves today, and the problems with our ttf approach to measurement–even after we embrace TG–are going to become more and more apparent every year.

So is subjectivity in measurement simply a non-unique disadvantage? In other words, are we forced to conclude that all measurements in development, whether ttf or TG, are simply more or less subjective?

By no means.

Let’s take the case of Dare2Share Ministries, the youth evangelism training organization of which I am a board member.

Let’s say as part of its TG measurements Dare2Share determined to measure the number of its champions who led another individual to Christ in the past year. One need not fear subjectivity in such a measurement. One would simply need to make the inquiry of each champion, “Have you led another individual to Christ in the past year?”

Now the extremely astute mind reading blog reader will quickly ask, “Well, sure, but who’s to say that leading an individual to Christ is an objective measurement of growth in relation to the cause of youth evangelism training? Isn’t it a subjective act to say what constitutes growth in the cause?”

Well played, extremely astute mind reading blog reader! You’ve just derived for yourself the centrality of the following TG principle:

The definition of what counts as Christian maturity in relation to the cause must be derived from scripture, not from our own opinions or preferences.

Our own preferences in this regard have proven to be woefully unscriptural and organization-centric, enabling us, for example, to have members of our boards of directors who have given us a lot of money but who are patently immature in relation to our cause.

Or we say, “Well, sure, Norma has never visited a prisoner. But she has faithfully folded our newsletters every month for twenty years!” That makes Norma fully formed in Christ in relation to the spiritual discipline of newsletter folding, but most assuredly not fully formed in Christ in relation to the spiritual discipline of visiting those who are sick or in prison (which, according to Ephesians 4:12, was the spiritual discipline we were supposed to be equipping her to mature in, if our cause is prison or hospital visitation).

Sum it up and say:

Not only are we capable of objective measurements in relation to the cause (e.g., Which of our champions have led someone to Christ this year? Which of our champions have visited someone in the hospital or the prison this year?), but by grounding our estimation of what constitutes full cause-maturity in Christ in the scripture and not in our own organizational preferences, we eliminate another area where ttf is hopelessly subjective–and subject to our organizational idolatry (i.e., Whatever is good for our organization must constitute maturity in relation to the cause).

There is one other area on which we need to touch in this discussion of subjectivity and measurement: champion/partner surveys and interviews.

When we turn our attention to building specific scripture-derived TG measurements for comprehensive Christ-maturity in relation to our cause, we will inevitably be relying more on the self-reporting of our champions and partners. (Witness this discussion of a World Vision survey as what I would call a step in the right direction.)

Isn’t self-reporting notoriously subjective?

Here we need to distinguish between two definitions of subjective, courtesy of that lexical powerhouse known as dictionary.com.

One definition of subjective is: pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.

If this is what is meant by subjective, then we are happily guilty as charged. A key purpose of TG is to help partners and champions understand what full maturity in the cause looks like as defined by scripture, and then to evaluate where we stand in relation to that full maturity, and then to grow in and by the grace of God toward that full measure.

Growth in the cause, in other words, isn’t whatever we say it is or wish it was. It’s what the scripture says it is, and what the Holy Spirit is inviting us toward.

A second definition of subjective is: placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.

Understanding the difference between these two definitions of subjective is indeed vital to successfully measuring comprehensive Christ-growth in relation to the cause: We must embrace the first understanding of subjective while being vigilant to guard against the second.

Scripture as our definer of full cause-maturity in Christ will be crucial to our not falling victim to this unwanted kind of subjectivity. But the topic–and the objections attendant to it–deserves its own post.

That’s why in our next post we’ll be dealing with the third objection to TG measurement: the concern voiced by some that the process of measuring divine activity is likely to turn us into legalists.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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One Response to Overcoming Measurement Objection 2: TG measurement is subjective

  1. Matt Bates says:

    Further evidence of the subjectivity of measurement in ttf: a fundraiser at a very large institution (say a national hospital or university) typically raises gifts of $500,000 but underperforms relative to her peers, while a fundraiser at a small nonprofit (say a local foodbank) raises gifts of $25,000, but vastly outperforms what had ever been done at that institution. Who gets hired when these two fundraisers apply for the same job at a third institution? It would be comforting to believe that the hiring committee would note the difference in context, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.

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