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Strategies for Effective Fundraising Evaluation

What you’re not as likely to find, however, are those who want to do the less glamorous job of critically assessing the fundraiser’s performance. The question comes in many forms, and it’s one more likely asked than answered: “Did it work?” “Did we meet our goal?” “Why or why not?”

Evaluating and gathering feedback—both qualitative and quantitative—can help you reach new levels of success year over year. When you begin with data; collect ongoing feedback; stay mission focused; and have honest reflections, you’ll find that evaluating your fundraising program is a worthwhile investment of time and resources.

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Fundraising Evaluation Begins with Data

Dispensing with the data analysis immediately at the end of your campaign is a strong way to orient your team to the facts when analyzing best practices and areas of opportunity.

Begin with the essentials:

  • Did we meet our goal?
  • How much did we exceed or fall short?

Don’t stop at the goal, however. You will likely also want to explore your year-over-year growth, number of products sold, number of customers and number of students who participated. These secondary metrics can help you uncover hidden characteristics about your fundraising program and the donors you engaged with a given initiative.

For example, if you launched a young professionals group and saw an increase in small gifts and a jump in donor volume, you can likely attribute your success to that demographically focused initiative. Furthermore, a strong year-over-year improvement may be evidence that your strategies worked, and that you have an attainable baseline goal for next year.

Funds for NGOs offers powerful insight on other metrics to analyze, particularly when it comes to demonstrating efficiency and accountability (overhead, anyone?). Your board might be particularly interested in these numbers to better prepare for next year. Look at the data story first. It will provide a clear roadmap for discussion and evaluation.

Fundraising Evaluation is Ongoing

In the midst of meeting, pitching, asking and advocating, keeping track of numbers may be the last thing on your mind.

In Fundraising the Smart WayEllen Bristol highlights a disheartening trend about fundraising and resource development organizations: “Fundraising is the function least likely to be touched by the benevolent hand of continuous improvement.”

In short, fundraising is something of a “lather, rinse, repeat” activity. Rather than dynamically responding to what we see from our community and see in the data, we allow fundraisers to go on year after year with largely the same structure. Resist this by evaluating data in real time, and listen—with restraint—to anecdotal feedback. If lots of people are encountering a certain difficulty, huddle with your team to find an interim solution.

Additionally, ongoing fundraising evaluation means annual data collection and analysis. Keep your results in a file that is passed on from one year to the next. This macro-level ongoing evaluation will help you see trends over time, rather than just discrete results from a single year. You’ll be able to look back and see which years performed best, and then look in your notes to see why. Perhaps that year had a particularly appealing theme, or perhaps the communication strategy was engaging and proactive with a new social media element.

Look at ongoing in both ways: evaluate as you go in your annual fundraiser, and then evaluate your campaigns collectively.

School Fundraising Evaluation is Mission-Focused

Jason McNeal is an experienced advertising consultant who works with corporate boards and c-suites on fundraising missions. McNeal’s take on mission-centered fundraising might be a radical departure from the sacred “donor-centered” approach, but he offers a compelling thought:

Our institutions should never be anything other than “mission-centered.” Our focus, energy, decision-making process, and donor-relations should sit on a foundation of mission. Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? Our mission-based center should evidence our values and our purpose. If we truly live out our mission, we will put appropriate focus, recognition, and stewardship on our donors.

McNeal believes that a mission-focused fundraising organization will inherently be donor-focused; one flows naturally from the other. This is not to dismantle donor-centered fundraising—surely the source of funds deserves heavy consideration—but it does compel us to evaluate whether our fundraiser completed its mission.

Evaluating your fundraising in terms of a well-crafted fundraising mission offers you a chance to connect all the dots. Your organization could have raised more than it imagined, but did those funds make it to where they needed to go? Did it create the life-changing opportunities you shared with donors?

A fundraiser should assess whether it was able to make any of the changes it set out to make, and if the strategy for communicating this mission was compelling. Here’s where you begin to ask qualitative questions like:

  • What was the tone of the campaign?
  • Did we engage more customers through this mission?
  • Did our community believe in our “why”?

Seek success stories throughout the year to evaluate this component, and solicit honest feedback from your volunteer community on how to modify or improve the mission for future fundraisers. The people on the ground will be the best barometers for how your donor audience is responding.

Fundraising Evaluation is Forward-Thinking

In any fundraising campaign, data and anecdotal evidence are components that tell you how you performed. Inherently, they are reflective measures that comment on past performance. The tendency in evaluative exercises is to give a grade or make a judgment call about how things were done in the past.

But the answer to every question about how your school fundraising program performed this year should have an immediate follow-up: what do we want to maintain or change next year?

Pivoting to the future when assessing your fundraiser is a powerful way of thinking. It makes initiating next year’s fundraising efforts far easier, and helps you enter problem-solving mindset. Rather than stopping at measuring the problem, you begin to open your team up to the possibility of building on success or changing the way something is done.

Evaluating your fundraiser with a forward-thinking mindset means setting goals for next year, now. Fundraising consultant Karen Eber Davis offers insights into goal setting and development that can help your team have an effective future-focused evaluation that builds on what you’ve learned from your most recent campaign.

School Fundraising Evaluation is Honest

School fundraisers are so often volunteer-driven, the sheer gratitude for the time and labor can make it difficult to have an honest and open dialogue about how to be better. Nevertheless, a successful evaluation is one that will be critical, but not crippling. Your greatest gift to yourself, your school and your team is looking at "failure" and reframing it as an "area of opportunity" without risking demoralization.

Businesses and fundraising organizations often find themselves in this predicament. With traditionally lower salaries, fewer resources and higher demands, it can be hard to tell an employee to “do better.” Effective teams, however, employ diverse tools to self-analyze and offer up suggestions that can benefit everyone.

Honest evaluation is another reason why beginning with data is critical. Numbers tell an important story, but not the entire story. To supplement, investigate tools like those offered up by Council of Nonprofits for organizational self-assessments. While not all of these metrics and considerations may be entirely relevant to a school fundraising program, they can shed light on ways for team members to personally improve and create a safe way to enter into honest conversation.

Additionally, consider anonymous feedback forms with questions about roles, logistics, communications and more. Allow your team to complete these and submit without identification. Compile and share the results with the team, and make this feedback a priority in strategizing for next year’s school fundraiser.

Wrapping Up

No matter how successful your fundraiser is, there’s always room for evaluation and improvement. Fortune 500 companies and small business owners alike will stress the importance of capitalizing on strengths and learning from failure—two things that can only be achieved through actively reflecting on how a project went. 

As with all aspects of leadership and project management, evaluation involves a thoughtful balance of critical improvement and positive reinforcement, as well as a dedication to the mission of improving the quality of life for children and families in your community. 


This blog post was brought in collaboration with Clay Boggess of Big Fundraising Ideas. Thanks to Clay for the contribution! 

clay-boggess-profile.pngClay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA's and PTO’s. Clay is a Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas.

Topics: Strategy Fundraising