November 21, 2022
Nonprofit Technology & Fundraising Blog
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This article was written by fundraising consultant Amy Eisenstein and originally published on www.amyeisenstein.com.
Let’s not sugarcoat it… measuring impact can be hard. The issues we tackle in the nonprofit sector are challenging.
It’s difficult to measure a reduction in homelessness, an increase in literacy, or a decrease in child abuse.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re making any difference at all.
Measuring the success of your Major Gift program can be just as difficult. Sometimes the most obvious yard stick — dollars raised — only tells part of the picture.
Recently I interviewed someone for a development position. She was only at her previous job for six months, but claimed to have raised a million dollar gift shortly after arriving.
You and I both know the gift was the result of the hard work of a predecessor. Nevertheless, she was in the right place at the right time. She got credit for the gift.
So, how do we measure the impact or success of major gift work?
It’s especially difficult when you have anxious board members breathing down your neck to show results – in other words, dollars raised.
Here’s another example of when dollars raised doesn’t tell the whole story.
In year one, you have 10 donors who each give $10,000. You report to the board that you’ve raised $100,000. They are happy. Great job!
The very next year, one of the donors from last year increases her giving to $100,000, but the other 9 donors don’t give again. For the second year in a row, you’ve raised $100,000. Again, the board is happy and believes you’ve done a great job.
However, because you’re not reporting on anything other than dollars raised, no one notices that 9 of your donors didn’t return. No one asks what happened to them or even makes an effort to get them back. (Editor’s Note: See our past article about LYBUNT and SYBUNT gift reporting)
I realize this is an extreme example, but it’s what happens every day when development professionals and boards don’t measure things like retention, attrition, and more.
Retention measures the health of your Major Gift Program. The vital signs in this metric are:
In simple terms, it’s the number of donors you keep.
Taking into account “natural attrition” — in other words, death, moving, etc. — you should be keeping the vast majority of your major donors.
The national retention rate average for all donors (not only major donors) is in the low 40% range. That’s awful!
A healthy major gift donor retention rate should be 80% or better.
Dollars requested and received measures the effectiveness of your major gift program.
If you asked 10 people for $10,000, you requested $100,000. If you received all you asked for then you probably played it safe and didn’t ask for enough. You could have asked more people for more dollars.
On the other hand, if you asked for $100,000, and raised less than 50%, you were too aggressive in terms those asked and the amounts you asked for.
Your program is effective when you get gifts from 80% of the people you ask, and about 80% of what you ask. If your numbers are much higher or lower, you may be playing it safe or being too aggressive.
You can’t ask for major gifts from behind your desk. You need to be out meeting with people and getting to know them.
Only you can determine the right number, but here’s an annual guideline: 12 meetings with donors is only one per month and 52 is one per week. Set a goal that works for you, and aim for somewhere between 12 and 52 per year.
Stewardship, or the follow up after a gift has been received, is a good indicator of future gifts.
Count the number of personal, meaningful stewardship efforts you make before asking for another gift.
If you’ve only made a few, cursory efforts, you need to steward your donor more before asking for another gift. If you have a robust stewardship program, it should be a good sign of things to come.
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE is an author, speaker, and trainer. Her published books include: Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, Raising More with Less, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks. She became an AFP certified Master Trainer in 2009. Amy recently completed her service as the president of the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – New Jersey Chapter. She became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2004 and received her advanced certification, ACFRE, in 2013. Check out her blog and video posts at www.amyeisenstein.com for free fundraising tips and best practices.