What you measure is what you get

If you are looking to improve year-over-year, it's a good idea to know what that improvement looks like.

Typically, we go straight for total dollars raised or aggregate participation rate. But in most situations we aren't expecting huge gains, instead we are looking for many smaller wins to yield that 2-3% increase to keep us ahead of last year's trend line.

Donor acquisition is costly. Looking at increased participation to drive your increase in dollars misses a larger opportunity.

Focusing on recapturing donors is nothing new, but what metrics are you looking at to track this?

Lastly, fundraising efforts rarely rely on a single contributor to be successful. Fundraising is a team sport. But in meeting I've been privy to, there is a disproportionate amount of time spent taking about aggregate metrics as opposed to incremental program-based metrics where individual contributors can — and feel as though they — make a difference.

A tiny "primer" on basic stats

You might know your average gift size from last year, but are you actively tracking this year? More importantly, why are you asking for the average size? Averaging can quickly become irrelevant when you look at your giving data. What does it mean to know that your average gift is $587? (Not much in my estimation.)

Conversely, by looking at the median — or the 50th-percentile — you get a better way to gauge your performance. A median gift of $100 tells a more meaningful story. It indicates that half of your donors are contributing at or below $100. And you can bet you have many people who are giving this amount. (But don't take my word for it, sort and scroll through your raw data or a frequency table.)

And if by "average" you are really wondering what the most common gift is, look no further than the mode. 

Another important distinction — mean vs. median — is that often the mean value is not an actual gift size, but you can be sure the median value is. Rather, the mean is simply showing the central tendency of your giving data.

Data for the sake of data

The mistake most people make when it comes to data is misunderstanding what it promises. Data is not a means to an end, rather, it is instrumental in answering strategic questions.

Grasping the different applications of these basic stats will enable you to better articulate your questions and take advantage of your data to answer those questions. You'll be closer to making data-driven decisions. 

Armed with this knowledge, you can ask yourself:

  • What are my objectives this year? What metrics do I need to track?
  • Are my current tactics focused on the right areas?
  • Am I measuring our results in a meaningful way?
  • Are my efforts having the affect I intended?
  • What results do I need in order to declare an effort successful?

What happens to your fund if you raise your median gift size from $100 to $125?

What would it take to do this? 

Hint: Stronger data-driven segmentation, dynamic gift ask amounts, stewardship tied to the right levels.

PhilanthropyDonald Pendagast