A number of months ago, I wrote an article about some of the most important Key Performance Indicators that managers of all nonprofit organizations should be aware of. That post seemed to be helpful to a lot of people in the nonprofit space, so I’ve decided to go back and take a bit of a more in-depth look at which specific KPIs can benefit your particular organization. Today, I’m starting with Land Trusts and Conservancies.
Every land trust is unique - regardless of size, whether yours is focused on the preservation of historically significant properties, developing public spaces for recreational use, or simply conserving a natural environment worth protecting, every trust or conservancy faces challenges that are often very different than those of other nonprofits. And while it is essential that every organization understands and utilizes KPIs, identifying and accurately tracking those data can be the difficult. Proper understanding and tracking of the right key performance indicators, however, can often be the difference between a smooth, successful operation and an unsustainable nightmare.
Figuring out exactly what your organization needs to keep track of can definitely be troublesome, but don’t worry. Whether you're is just starting out, you’ve recently upgraded or changed your CRM software system, or you’re simply worried that you might be missing something important, we’ve got you covered.
In no particular order, here is our list of the Top 10 KPIs for Land Trusts & Conservancies.
1) Acreage Protected
This one should seem obvious. We consider this to be the primary KPI for any land trust or conservancy. Every organization should be keeping very close track of how many acres of land that they are protecting. Now, how exactly you choose to keep track of that figure may vary - acreage protected per year, total acreage protected since the land trust was formed, and average acreage protected per year since the land trust was formed are all common forms of measurement.
You may also want to consider keeping a separate record of how much acreage your trust is protecting by Fee Simple Acquisition vs. Conservation Easements, depending on whether your organization deals with both of those - just make sure that you are keeping track of this KPI in some manner.
2-3) Number Of Donors Per Project & Average Gift Size
Since some individual fee simple conservation projects have the majority (if not all) of their funding come from a select few donors, or in the case of many conservation easements that don’t deal much with fundraising (as most easements are not commonly purchased), this particular KPI may not be seen as absolutely essential for everyone. However, in the case that your organization does deal with a lot of fundraising, especially if it involves a high number of individual donors, keeping track of both the total number of donors per project as well as the average gift size of said donors can be extremely helpful. If you keep a record of this data, you’ll more easily be able to keep track of donor retention and gift size growth year-over-year - and that information can make a huge difference when you’re forming (or re-evaluating) your short-and-long-term strategy.
4) Total Dollars Raised
The final seven KPIs on this list have mostly to do with stewardship in general, and this first one is fairly obvious. Understanding the total dollars that have been raised for your stewardship fund is about as important as it gets. Cash is oxygen, my friend - you’ll need that money to keep operating, and planning how to use your limited funds in the short-and-long-term is essential for your trust’s success.
5) Average/Total Dollars Raised Per Year
This KPI (as well as two others on this list) is really a combination of two separate ones, but they’re essentially useful for the same purposes. The first, total dollars raised per year, is important to understand where your organization stands in the present year, so you can compare that to that of previous years, or perhaps to our second KPI, average dollars raised per year. If you’re six months into the fiscal year, are you ahead of where you stood last year, or are you doing worse than you’ve done in the past on average in the month of June? Having this data alone won’t explain everything to you, but it will give you a hard indicator that you’re doing something right (or wrong).
6) Average/Total Dollars Raised Per Project
This one is similar to #5, except here you should be tracking how well every individual project is doing. Do certain projects garner more donations than others? Perhaps some projects have fewer donors, but those donors donate much more money to that project than others. Certain projects might generate more dollars depending on the time of year - maybe your donors are more generous in the Spring than in the Fall. You won’t know for sure unless you keep detailed, accurate reports of every donation for each project.
7) Number Of Volunteers Per Individual Project
When it comes to stewardship activities, your volunteers are absolutely crucial. Knowing how many of them you can mobilize for a specific project is important both when you’re planning and when you’re out in the field executing - so don’t just keep a general tally of volunteers on your contact list. You need to know how many people turned out for every project you’ve ever done - that way, you can see whether certain types of projects foster more attention from your constituents. Then, you need to ask yourself why some projects get larger turnouts. Is it weather? Time of year? Or maybe you just have a lot more people interested in helping to remove trash than you do for building trails? Whatever it is, having solid figures to look at will help you to get a better understanding of your volunteer base.
8) Average/Total Annual Volunteer Mobilization
As I stated in #7, knowing how many volunteers you can mobilize is important - but not just with individual projects. How many volunteers did you have in total last year? How many did you have, on average, in the past five years? Are you losing volunteers? You can’t know if you don’t track it.
9) Total Volunteers Mobilized Since Land Trust Formation
If cash is oxygen, your volunteers are your food and water - essential to the life of your conservancy. In the same way you’ll want to know how much money you’ve raised for your stewardship fund, you’re going to need to know how many total volunteers you’ve mobilized for your cause over the years.
Why? Well, for one thing, it’s always nice to have a big number to throw around when you’re fighting for that next easement, or searching for more new and returning donors. But it’s also important to be able to see how long your volunteers have been with you - it’s rare to see 100% of volunteers being 1-and-done superstars. Some of them must be in it for the long-haul, but who? Who can you rely on when you need help the most? Is there someone who used to be very active that you might be able to bring back into the fold? Knowing your total volunteer count can help you with all of that.
10) Assorted Stewardship KPIs
Okay, okay, yes, I know, I kind of cheated here. First I combined a bunch of KPIs into single categories up above, and now I’m just listing off a bunch of assorted KPIs as my #10. But before you yell at me for breaking the cardinal rule of top-ten lists, hear me out.
Here’s the thing - every organization, every land trust, every conservancy, is different. Different groups work on different projects. So while #10 on this list may be called “assorted stewardship KPIs”, what it really should say is “KPIs for things your trust has accomplished”. How many bags of trash have you removed from a property? From all properties? What about invasive plant species removal, or acreage of wetlands you’ve restored? Or maybe you want to get into a bit more detail: try linear feet of stream banks stabilized, or linear miles of trails built/maintained. The specifics here are virtually endless, but the point is that you should do whatever you can to keep track of as much data as possible. You never know when someone - be it a potential donor, government agency, volunteer, future employee, or otherwise - will ask you a question, and you certainly don’t want to be unable to answer it.