Evaluate, But Don’t Over Analyze


I often get asked about how to evaluate fundraising events, programs, mailings, etc.  Most fundraisers seem to know that they should be evaluating the results of their fundraising efforts, but they’re not quite sure how to do it.  There’s a lot that you can track and you can spend a lot of time analyzing data.  So the key is to track just a few key metrics that will provide you with clear insight, but not take a ton of time to analyze.

During the preparation for my CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) exam about twelve years ago, I came across a great tool that makes fundraising evaluation simple.  The tool comes from James M. Greenfield’s Fund Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process and it is his Nine-Point Performance Index.  The index can and should be used to evaluate all solicitation methods for a charity.  As James puts it “Each of these nine elements is, in itself, an indicator of performance success.  Together they provide more than adequate detail to allow not-for-profit organizations to interpret their results and estimate future income with reliability based on how well each solicitation method has proven its mix of ingredients for success.”  Here are the nine performance elements:

  1. Participants (number of donors responding with gifts)
  2. Income (gross contributions)
  3. Expense (fundraising costs)
  4. Percent Participation (participants / # of solicitations made)
  5. Average Gift Size (income / participants)
  6. Net Income (income – expense)
  7. Average Cost per Gift (expense / participants)
  8. Cost of Fund Raising ([expense / income] * 100)
  9. Return ([net income / expense] *100)

There’s a good bit of math there.  Most development folks I know like to ask for money, but don’t like to count it.  You might say we’re a bit of a math averse crowd.  So, I have some good news for you … about ten years ago I developed an excel spreadsheet that does all the work for you.  You just enter your raw data and everything is computed, it’s that simple.  We have that spreadsheet (as an MS Excel file) available for download right here.

But the real key is what you do with the results.  Running these numbers will provide a lot of input, but you have to decide what is significant for your organization and ask the hard questions.  What should you stop doing?  What should you scale up?  What should you scale down?  This evaluative process should be the first step in putting together any development plan, because without good data you’re just guessing.