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Measuring Fundraising Progress

(This is the last post in a series of five about building fundraising momentum in your organization. The first covered the discovery that major gifts fundraising principles can be applied at this organization. The second discussed the importance of building a team. The third was about the power of the first big gift. The fourth described the momentum of a vibrant campaign.)

We live in an age of quantification. This year, the Hewlett Foundation changed its tagline from “Solving social and environmental problems at home and around the globe” to “Helping people build measurably better lives.” If the Hewlett Foundation were helping me make my life better, I might prefer they do it in a way that is not measurable. But that’s just me.

Paul Jolly Paul Jolly

Major gifts fundraising is an endeavor which defies reduction to goal, plan, action, result, evaluation. Every donor is different, and we have to honor that uniqueness if we are going to get anywhere. But we often do not have the luxury of saying to the people we work for, “Trust me. At the end of this process you will be better off.” So here are some ways that we can quantify our work, even those of us who prefer the touchy feely process-centric approach.

The obvious measurements are related to money raised. Number of gifts at each level of the pyramid. Income compared to budget. Income compared to this month last year. Number of new donors at each level. Number of renewals vs. number of lapses.

These are all important, and each of those statistics tells a story about how well you are doing. But money is not the complete picture. Especially if your organization is new to major gifts fundraising, it is important to pay attention to subtler measures. People who don’t understand fundraising can easily get discouraged or dismissive if they don’t see progress. So here are some other ways to show progress.

  • Number of board members involved. There is a cosmic drama taking place on every non profit board. The forces that understand and embrace fundraising are competing with the forces that dismiss or distance themselves from it. And in between the extremes are people who are waiting to be won over. (Melodramatic? But true. And important to keep track of.)
  • Percentage of FTE spent on conversations with donors. The military talks about the “tooth to tail” ratio – that is, the number of support personnel needed to equip one combat soldier. The apex of our work is cultivation and solicitation of donors. Face to face, on the phone, or in groups. So how much “tail” does your team employ to support that “tooth”?
  • Percentage of time spent in donor meetings for each fundraiser. An individual also has a “tooth to tail” ratio. With very few exceptions, all my donor visit trips yield some positive movement. And with absolutely no exceptions, when I am sitting in my office, not conversing with donors, nothing happens. That doesn’t mean that a major gift officer should be on the road 95% of the time. We all get burned out if we travel too much. And we all have essential desk work. But the authors of In Search of Excellence wrote in 1982, about the importance of a “bias” for action”. In the case of development, that means a bias for spending time with donors. It’s more fun than sitting at your desk, anyway.
  • Number of prospects validated by solid research. A prospect is someone who has the means to make a significant gift, who is committed to the cause, and who we can reach through someone in our network. How many of those people are you working with?
  • Slice and dice your pipeline. If you have a prospect list that indicates capacity and stage of cultivation, you can analyze it all sorts of ways. How many prospects for $50,000-plus do you have? How many prospects have had a face to face meeting with a staff or board member? How many people will be ready for solicitation in the next six months?

This is a call to action. Touchy-feely, process-centric fundraisers unite! If we do not define the measurements of our work, they will be defined for us. And we will hear “Why haven’t you raised any money?” a whole lot more often.

The preceding is part 5 of a 5 part series, “Unleashing Organizational Possibilities” by regular guest post contributor Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc. Paul worked as a fund raising professional for over 20 years before starting the consulting firm Jump Start Growth. He began his career serving various Quaker institutions, then moved to The Wilderness Society, and then the American Civil Liberties Union. In every instance, he has zeroed in on gifts from individuals at the top of the giving pyramid. The focus of Paul’s consulting work is bringing sophisticated major gifts fund raising practices to organizations that are outside of the philanthropic mainstream. His successes include leading three capital campaigns for organizations new to major gifts fund raising, securing millions of dollars in bequest and planned gift commitments, and bringing new life and laser-sharp focus to disheartened development departments.

Topics: Fundraising