All fundraisers are closet data nerds. We love to pore over a spreadsheet of data and see what’s going on in our programs.
But if you had to say you focused on one number above the rest, what would it be?
I surveyed my Twitter followers, LinkedIn network, and email list, and here’s what they said:
- Net revenue
- Participation (combination of expected retained donors + new donors)
- # of new donors
- # of new young donors
- Difference in dollars raised year-over-year
- Total dollars raised (this is what I answer to at the board level – they have a finite term)
- Total dollars raised
- Total dollars raised
- Conversion rate
- Total dollars raised (short-term)
- # of new donors (long-term)
As you can see, there’s a decent mix of metrics in there. Not to say this is a comprehensive sample, but I’d say us fundraisers are on the same page for the most part in terms of what we look at.
I was most interested by those who referenced the word term – “finite term”, “short-term”, “long-term”. That’s why I wanted to write about this in the first place.
Are we focusing on the right numbers?
I’m not going to pretend for a second that I know the number we’re supposed to be focusing on. Or that there even is such a number! I’m just observing that more often than not, we’re looking at our programs from a few inches away, rather than from a bird’s eye view.
We need to step back and think big picture.
We need to say, “Okay, so total dollars raised are coming up short of last year, is there anything I can see in last year’s data that would support that?”
Or even better, “The number of new donors this year is fewer than last; we’re going to have trouble with second gift conversion next year, and therefore total dollars, if we don’t focus more on acquisition.”
And that leads me to another number that no one mentioned, but I think a lot of managers, especially, get caught up in.
“We’re spending more than last year. We need to pull back!”
But stop – how does your increase in expenses translate into fundraising results? Are you seeing better results? Can you project that what you’re doing this year will translate into better – and more sustainable – growth in future years?
Because if so, try to stomach the expenses in the short-term. The long-term return on your investment will be worth it.
So take a step back. Think critically. Look closely at data, and then look at data from afar. You might not see it the same way.
What’s YOUR number? Share in the comments.
Written by Maeve Strathy
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.