Fundraising Strategy

Setting Strategies by the Numbers

It’s hard to get 250+ nonprofit professionals (aka Don Quixote do-gooders) in one place and NOT be overwhelmed by the positive vibe. 

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Walking into the opening keynote address at the AFP Mid-America Conference on Fundraising, the energy was palpable. Attendees at the few tables with seats still open were eagerly welcoming late-comers. And despite the fact the speaker went 10 minutes over the allotted time, no one left early. 

People were there to learn … and it’s virtually impossible not to get caught up in that. In fact, that energy carried over into the rest of the afternoon.

So, you can imagine my excitement as I walked into the session that had grabbed my attention to begin with – “How to Benchmark for Successful Fundraising.”

First the great news: the presenter introduced a FREE resource, a downloadable Excel-based Fundraising Fitness Test, “that allows nonprofits to measure and evaluate their fundraising programs against a set of over 100 performance indicators.”

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project was established in 2006 by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute to conduct research on fundraising effectiveness and help nonprofit organizations increase their fundraising results at a faster pace. 

Tools like this can help make that happen!

Unfortunately, the session never really capitalized on the potential this tool offers. The speaker spent too much time talking about how to set the tool up and too little talking about why. She spoke of using the information only in very broad terms: average retention rates and very general strategies to improve retention.

I think the key to success – and the beauty of this tool – lies in looking more closely. 

For example, while retention may average 45%, repeat donors likely return at a much higher rate (e.g., 70%) and first-time donors at a much lower rate (e.g., 25%). This is much more actionable information. Are there strategies you can put in place to try and increase first-time retention? A hand-addressed, hand-signed Thank You card, for example, or a call from a board member or volunteer?

Another fascinating perspective is Donor Gain/Loss, i.e., an accounting of donors who increase or decrease their giving. Again, this is actionable information. For several clients we have implemented a high touch (e.g., hand-signed outreach) to clients who are “behind” in their support. The parameters can vary; in one case, for example, we check giving at nine months into the year and target supporters who have given less than 50% of the prior year’s giving.

Admittedly, I'm a numbers geek and may get more excited than the average individual. But I encourage you to download the Fitness Test and see if it uncovers any surprises within your donor base.

I continued to feed my geekiness on day two, especially at the session entitled "Using Data Visualization in Fundraising Collateral." People process visual cues faster and are more likely to remember the key point contained. This is especially important when presenting data.

The problem with spreadsheets is that most people's eyes glaze over before they've gotten past the first couple cells. For example, the donor gain/loss data hidden away in the columns above could presented much more quickly and clearly as a graph. (You'll notice the sample here, while not using the same data, actually presents a three-year perspective instead of two. More info. And even faster!)

Of course, graphs and charts are only one approach, but they have helped pave the way for all kinds of high-impact infographics. The presenter was kind enough to recommend some low- or no-cost resources available, such as Canva, Piktochart,, or Venngage.

After all, it's not enough to just be able to understand what the numbers say. It's a whole lot more meaningful if you're able to tell that story in an easily understandable and believable way!

Another great conference, AFP Mid-America. Thanks for sharing!