How do you choose your fundraising strategies? First, of course, you start with the body of knowledge. You choose your fundraising strategies based on all those books by people like Ken Burnett, Mal Warwick, Laura Fredricks, Tom Ahern, Ted Hart, Kay Sprinkel Grace, Adrian Sargeant, me… And the list goes on and on. Visit CFRE and the Association of Fundraising Professionals for good booklists. You visit the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration and explore all of the good newsletters listed there. You check out Asking Matters. You read blogs from the Agitator and others, like Jeff Brooks’ Future Fundraising Now.

Next, you look at the results of all of your organization’s fundraising. You analyze response rates and examine your return on investment (ROI). You compare current results to the last several years. You explore trends and their implications.

And now… try using a special set of nine criteria that I’ve developed for my clients:

  • Mission alignment
  • Direct and indirect financial cost (e.g., staff)
  • Prospective net profit
  • Relationship building
  • Institutional capability (e.g., skills and knowledge to carry out the activity)
  • Institutional capacity (e.g., human, technological, financial and other resources needed to carry out the activity)
  • Audience development/community outreach (e.g., introducing your organization to new audiences)
  • Risk analysis
  • Opportunity cost

These are the criteria I think are particularly useful. What would you add? Now let’s discuss the process.

First, define the purpose of the activity you’re proposing. For example, the primary purpose of a fundraising event is to produce net profit. The primary purpose of a relationship-building/cultivation/stewardship activity is to nurture relationships with donors.

Second, evaluate the proposed activity using my nine criteria above using a one to five scale for each assessment with a five being the highest score. But be careful! A high total doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. For example, if you say your risk is high – and award it a “5,” that’s bad. And if your hospital runs a golf tournament that produces significant net income, obviously the mission alignment should be rated zero. And I suspect that the relationship building criteria might be low, too. (I think golfers talk about golf while golfing. I’m not assured that golfers will be greatly interested in talking about healthcare while golfing.)

The point is, when you use these nine criteria to determine if your particular activity – strategy or tactic – is a good idea, be rigorous in your evaluation. And it’s very important to use the criteria to help define measures. For example, if you say the fundraising event is going to be good for relationship building, then make sure you define relationship-building measures in advance. Then evaluate according to those measures after the event.

Here’s a question: What do you think are the most important criteria amongst my nine suggestions? I think they’re all pretty important – perhaps even equally important. Think about it. Can you imagine taking on an activity without the capability to do it? Oh no, please don’t write a direct mail acquisition letter unless you are a direct mail expert – because the response rate is so low anyway. Can you imagine doing a three-day outdoor arts festival without a pretty darn good contingency plan? I was scarred at my first job as executive director of an arts center/arts council. Yes, we hosted a three-day outdoor arts festival. Of course, I knew that weather was the big risk. But I don’t remember any brilliant contingency plans. And yes, there was rain. And a tornado, too.

But here’s what frustrates me the most – and why I invented the criteria and the evaluation scale. Let’s say the fundraising event didn’t produce sufficient net profit. So after the fact, the organization says, “But it was a good relationship builder.” I doubt it! I don’t see events being very good relationship builders unless you intentionally plan for that.

My biggest pet peeve has to do with high opportunity cost. Let’s say the organization – maybe yours – does multiple fundraising events. They each bring in a bit of money. And, yes, you do good relationship-building there. But you’re spending too much time on these events. You have not launched a face-to-face personal solicitation program. That’s the biggest opportunity cost there is, I think: hosting lots of events but not doing personal, face-to-face solicitation as part of your annual fundraising program.

Please, please, please. Stop doing something else. Focus on the best opportunity there is: personal, face-to-face solicitation.


More information on fundraising evaluation criteria, including how to determine your donor-centric quotient, can be found in the Free Download Library on Simone Joyaux’s website.