How Do You Tell That Fundraising is Working?

Xio Kikauka

By Xio Kikauka

How do you tell if your fundraising is working? And, perhaps more importantly, which specific activities are raising the most money? There are many different ways to answer these questions, and it is easy to get confused and end up measuring the wrong things.

A few very common metrics that are used that miss the most important aspect of fundraising are:

  • Website traffic
  • Social media
  • Number of members/donors
  • Number of people attending events
  • Number of people pledging to give in the future
  • Donor retention

These are all temptingly easy things to measure, but they are not what ultimately matters – how much money was donated. As such these are all proxy metrics and although they can be a sign that your fundraising is going in the right direction, you should not over focus on them.

They are only useful if they lead to more money being raised. For example, if you have a record over several years showing that web traffic leads to more donations, then it is safer to use this as a proxy. If on the other hand, you are simply guessing that web traffic leads to more donations, this can be misleading and potentially waste time.

Generally a better strategy is to have a field on the donation page asking donors how they heard about your charity. This can allow you to see what types of fundraising (if any) are really increasing donations. This is such an important question that it is even worth making mandatory when people donate.

It is worth bearing in mind that you may find that your activities are not truly causing donations. It could be that almost all of the money raised is due to word of mouth. Be open to this possibility because it could drastically change your fundraising approach and save you enormous amounts of money.

So next time your Executive Director is pushing you to increase donor retention, make sure to remind them that a fundraiser’s bottom line is not how many new donors she retains, but how much money she moves. If your messaging lost you a few donors but you are now raising more money, this is better than keeping those donors but having less money to help your cause.

Xio Kikauka is the co-executive director and co-founder of Charity Science, which applies science to doing good. Prior to this she worked in Oxford doing impact analysis for nonprofits. She has been a measurement and evaluation consultant for charities, and has a background in psychology and research methodology.”

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