Fundraising Data: 3 Secrets to Strong Reporting

By Mary Hackett, Vice President

Your fundraising reports should be purposeful and engage your audiences. The right reports can drive better fundraising results and deploy different audiences to act in different ways. Many of our clients come to us when they are at their wit’s end with their reporting. Here is what they say:

  • “I’m frustrated because my monthly fundraising reports take 5x longer than they should.”
  • “I want to produce the right reports, but my database doesn’t exactly export what we need so there’s a lot of manipulation in Excel.”
  • “I don’t have the right visuals that spur conversation or action.”
  • “I’ve been producing the same reports for years and hardly anyone looks at them anymore.”

Any of that resonate with you? These are statements we hear daily. There are three secrets to strong reporting:

  1. Understand your audiences and provide actionable information for each audience (not one size fits all)
  2. Produce the right amount of data in an easy-to-read format/visual for each audience
  3. Automate the reports for efficiency (we care about your sanity)

Secret 1: You have three audiences, and each audience should receive their own fundraising report.

Your board is one audience, and we must remember that they are not full-time fundraisers. Your board reports should help them understand the big fundraising efforts, plug in where they can and assist you in your fundraising efforts. They need high-level visibility into the organization’s philanthropic landscape and how it is changing. They do not need to know the details of every mailing, appeal and effort. Here’s what we like to provide for our clients’ board reporting. This is easy-to-read and allows them to see who gives, how they give and totals for each.

Access Alford Group’s free Board Toolkit

Your next audience is your leadership, and these are your strategists. They too need high-level visibility into where the revenue is coming from, but they also need to see what’s working (and what’s not) and be able to manage time, resources and staff appropriately. Your reports for leadership help them assess the current state of fundraising, make data-driven decisions and strategize.

The third audience is your fundraisers. These reports should help your fundraisers understand how their efforts/programs are performing, course-correct if needed and produce improved results. These reports have the most detail.

Secret 2: Visuals matter because people respond to them

Photo credit: Hot Butter Studio

Check out this visual I saw on LinkedIn. It perfectly describes why visuals matter. The image with all the Legos in a pile represents the data in your database. You can sort or arrange your data, but that doesn’t help you understand or interpret your philanthropic landscape. Only when the data is presented visually does it become easier to understand. When it’s explained as a story, that’s where the magic happens!

To tell the story you want to tell, you need to choose the right visual.

Trying to show percentages? Use a pie or doughnut chart.

Need to compare 1-2 variables? Use a bar chart.

Want to compare 3+ variables? Use a line chart.

But remember, not all visuals are created equal.


Secret 3: Automate Your Reports

This is about eliminating the time you spend creating the same report every month by developing standard reports that do the work for you. You don’t have to be an engineer or developer to automate your reporting. In fact, our preferred method of automating reports and dashboards uses a tool that you are probably familiar with – Microsoft Excel.

I know what you’re thinking….every report should come straight from the database. I used to think that too, until I became exhausted wrestling data like it was a tiger every month. Unless you have a tool like Power BI or Tableau, Excel allows us to write detailed and specific formulas to calculate and display the exact metrics needed. No database can do this. You’d have to run multiple queries, tweak small variables each time, combine the data and then create the visuals.

With the correct visuals and clearly defined metrics and formulas, all you need to do is copy new data into the report file each month and your reports update automatically.

In fact, the sample reports showcased in this blog post all came from Excel.

Check out this Major Gift Officer Metrics Dashboard. This was created in Excel and uses one export from the database. In that one export, we can look at where each gift officer is compared to their unique metrics, goals and performance. With Excel you’ve got the best of both worlds: data manipulation and data visualization. Not only can you write your own story, but you can tell it effectively through visuals, too.

Let’s Recap

Your reports should be timely, automated, action-oriented and tailored for each of your three audiences. Imagine this scenario for your organization:

  • Each audience engages in fundraising at the highest and best ways possible (including board members)!
  • Each audience understands the philanthropic landscape and can ask informed questions.
  • Your leadership and fundraisers can make data-driven decisions and raise more money.
  • Your colleagues won’t waste time on activities that aren’t fruitful.

There is an art and a science to actionable, beautiful fundraising reports. The science is the data and interpreting it so that others can use it to strengthen your fundraising program. The art is in making the visuals appealing, so that each audience looks forward to receiving and reviewing their report and can easily get up-to-speed. With automated reporting, you can have your cake and eat it, too!

Interested in revamping your fundraising reports? We can help!

Alford Group’s Fundraising Operations services include everything you need to get your back office in shape to support fundraising. Services include database cleanup and migration; data standards, reporting and analytics; policies, protocols and procedures; and more.