Simone Joyaux

So many things to measure, so little time.

Pick the right stuff, the important stuff.

Collect the information. Then analyze the information so you can talk about the trends and implications. Information is useless until we can answer the “so what?” question. What are the trends in this information? Why does this information matter? What are the short- and long-term implications for our organization?

Without quality information, it’s hard to have a strategic conversation. Without quality information, it’s tough to make good decisions.

So what will you measure in fund development? What measures (also called metrics) will you choose? Remember, measures are not just numbers. Measures can be qualitative, not just quantitative.

Here’s the usual stuff that organizations measure in fund development:

  • Total dollars raised
  • Cost to raise a dollar
  • Average gift size
  • Number of gifts at various gift levels
  • Cumulative giving by a donor in a 12-month period – and over multiple years
  • Number of donors
  • Donor acquisition, attrition, and retention rates (And retention rates are the most important. You know, keep those donors! Especially since it’s estimated to cost 10 times more money to acquire a new donor, as it is to retain a current one.)
  • Percent of donors who increase their gift size and / or number of gifts per year
  • And here’s an often-missed one: Rate of transition from first-time donor to regular donor
  • And how about this one: Size of gift compared to your estimation of donor’s level of interest and commitment

Notice how all those measures focus on money. And fund development isn’t supposed to be about money only. I’ve certainly ranted and raved about that enough in this column.

You’ve heard me! Operate as a donor-centered organization. Pay attention to the donors’ interests and disinterests. Your organization is a conduit to achieve the donors’ desires.

So what else can we measure?

How about the effectiveness of relationship building with donors?

Start from the donor’s perspective. Ask your donors about their satisfaction. Try these measures that focus on donor satisfaction:

  • Satisfaction with your organization’s execution of its mission and the progress made on your mission
  • Satisfaction with your customer service (and not just from the development office! Look at Sargeant’s research about donor loyalty. See Building Donor Loyalty. See also donor / members survey in Keep Your Donors.)
  • Satisfaction with your thank-you process and your recognition program
  • Satisfaction with the quality of conversations donors have with RAW
  • Satisfaction with the content and frequency of your communications
  • Degree to which donor values align with your organization’s values (essential for what a donor considers a large gift)
  • How often the donor refers others to you
  • How many times the organization has “wowed” or “aha-ed” the donor – being surprised by the organization’s creativity and ingenuity.

Now examine how effectively you do the relationship-building work. Try these measures to evaluate what your organization is doing:

  • Breadth and depth of information about donors in your files, with an emphasis on interests and disinterests, motivations and aspirations
  • Diversity, regularity, and frequency of your contacts with prospects and most especially with donors
  • Level of personalization in your communications and cultivation with prospects and donors
  • Effectiveness of cultivation at fundraising events (Remember, that’s the mingling and schmoozing that staff and board members do. See my previous columns.)
  • Donor-centered communications strategies and content (And remember, this really means following writing and readability standards summarized by Tom Ahern in his various books. Visit Tom at
  • Frequency and regularity of cultivation activities, attendance and quality of conversation there, number of attendees who join mailing list or follow up with a gift
  • Effective identification of the predisposed, and the percent you qualify as prospects
  • Percent of qualified prospects who transition into donors

And there’s still more measures! Let’s make sure to measure board member participation in fund development. For example:

  • Personal financial contribution each year from every board member
  • Identifying those who might be predisposed to your organization. Helping qualify them as prospects, or not.
  • Nurturing relationships between the organization and donors and qualified prospects.
  • Helping solicit charitable gifts personally, face-to-face.

What’s most important in your organization? (And you’d better not say money! Or I’ll haunt you.) What are you going to measure? What are you going to make sure is done and done well?