How You Can Do It Better—Assessing Your Fundraising Program

I know. You’ve tried this—and it didn’t work. Besides, you do things THIS way, not that. Stuck in a quagmire that seemingly has no happy results. Fundraising seems to do this to people. Yearning for more funds; unwilling to do the hard work of getting there. And make no mistake, it is hard work. And it takes time.

Just because you tried and failed, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you should quit. And just because you’ve always done it this way doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a change—especially if this way isn’t profitable.

If fundraising has a magic bullet, it is consistency. But consistency with intelligence. So doing something once does not make you consistent. Doing it ten times with bad results does not evince intelligence.

If you haven’t tried assessing your fundraising program, that should be step one. Create a table or spreadsheet and write down all the ways you are raising funds. Go back three to five years, and log how much you’ve raised in each year. Then, look at how many donors (or funders—grants count, too) were part of the number raised each year. Too often, fundraising numbers look great but digging deeper shows that there is an anomaly—one large gift (probably not to be repeated in the foreseeable future). Reality check: You cannot depend on anomalies.

Secondly, as important as dollar amounts are, you want to see if you are gaining or losing donors. If you have a sophisticated enough donor tracking system, also look at new donors versus renewing donors. If you are like most nonprofits in the United States, somewhere around 50% of all your first time donors never become second-time ones. And about 35% of those who had made a gift for 2-5 years leave every year.

If you fit that image, do something to reach out specifically to those lapsed donors. Sometimes, they have just neglected to respond to the annual appeal. Sometimes, you have forgotten to ask them. And all of the time, a personal outreach will bring back more than half of them to the fold.

Finally, if you can, put down the cost of your initiative. How much, annually, are you spending on a specific fundraising technique year to year.

Now take a long hard look at your fundraising program. Are there areas that make you think, “wow, we are going great guns”? Others that make you think, “Uh-oh, we have a problem”?

Those that are good—keep doing them, maybe just more so. For those that are not, consider if they need to be retooled or trashed. But before you trash, make sure that you are not trashing something that could be good if only you did it consistently or with intention.

Intention? By that I mean that what you are doing has been well thought out. You know what your expectations are before you make a move and you consider how best to attain your goals. You’ve thought through what it would take to be successful.

For example, asking prospects via letter (or email) to support a capital campaign or give at a large(r) level is probably not going to be your most successful move—even if you do it consistently; even if you’ve planned the letter down to the final period. Unless you’ve considered things like follow up, building a real relationship, engaging the donor in a serious and meaningful way.

Careful assessment can tell where you are. It can also help to guide you on a new, more successful path. Take the time to look at what you are doing, ask those hard questions and consider how you could do it better.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger boards.  Learn how she can help your organization at  While there, sign up for the free newsletter.