Prepare your donor database for year-end fundraising with performance analysis, data clean up, and…dragonglass

By Mary Hackett, Associate Vice President and Cassandra Di Prizio, Consultant

Ok folks, Halloween is officially over and WINTER IS COMING (Game of Thrones references provided for our fellow fans – you’re welcome). Hopefully the change of seasons from fall to winter and the accompanying year-end appeal planning and execution feels less like you’re facing the Night King and an army of Wights and more like you’re planning a feast for your loyal bannermen or awaiting the Lannister loot train (minus the pesky Targaryen dragon attack).

For many organizations the year-end push yields a significant portion of annual giving. By November you’ve likely already planned your appeal, written your letters and booked your mail house, but have you planned for measuring your success and course-correcting any shortcomings? If not, we’ve pulled together a few tips to guide you on your quest for the Iron Throne, errr….I mean, for a successful year-end appeal!

3 Key Fundraising Metrics to Measure

#1 Participation Rates

Are your donors responding to the year-end strategy? The age-old metric is that you can expect 1% of your file to respond to direct mail. My humble advice — throw that metric out the window and look at your own historical participation rates. That’s what you should compare this year’s efforts to. If participation rates are down, consider doing a strategic second drop of your mailing or a follow-up email campaign. The messaging should be inspiring; don’t let the fact that your participation rates are down cloud the message into a desperate plea.

#2 Upgrade and Downgrade Rates

You don’t have to wait until the year-end push is over to see if donors are upgrading or downgrading their donations. It’s better to check your results on a weekly basis throughout the year-end push. If you find that donors are upgrading, that’s great! Your content is strong, and you’ve inspired increased giving. Depending upon the amount of increase, you might consider making some discovery/qualification thank you calls to see if this donor should be pursued for a major gift.

If you find that donors are downgrading their year-end gifts from the previous fiscal year, that indicates an issue with one of the following areas:

  • Look at your content from last year and this year. How do the solicitations differ? Did last year’s push showcase a more compelling story or more accurately articulate a gift’s associated impact?
  • Donors give in the range they are asked. It is rare (but it does happen) that a $1,000 gift will come in when the gift ladder in the solicitation was $25, $50, $100, $250. But most of the time, you’ll get what you ask for. If donors are downgrading, did you tailor the gift ladder to reflect the donor’s current giving and work to inspire an upgrade?
  • Donors have higher expectations for stewardship these days. Gone are the days when you could send a thank you letter, a handful of newsletters, and then resolicit at each year-end push. Donors like to be engaged where they have a chance for their voice and ideas to be heard. Whether it’s a survey, social media or thank you calls, did you engage your donors over the last year in a way that ensures they felt “heard?”

#3 Participation Levels

The next fundraising metric to review is the giving level of those donors who have renewed their support.

What is the median gift for this year-end compared to last year? Additionally, compare the median and mode (most frequently occurring) gift levels to your gift ladder. Let’s say the gift ladder in your fundraising push is $25, $50, $100, $250. Which level is the most chosen level? If it’s $25, next year you might consider starting your gift ladder at $35.


Do you need to course-correct?

The metrics above are important, but how you react to them is even more critical. Knowing you need to course-correct before the campaign is over can potentially save your year-end efforts or make them more successful. Plans change, strategies are deployed or delayed as tactics are tested and new information reveals itself. Here are three ways you can monitor and make pivotal changes depending upon where and how you fall short. (SPOILER ALERT – sorry, none of them involve dragons.)

#1 Make sure to monitor weekly.

On a weekly basis – let’s say Wednesday morning – you should review how your year-end fundraising push is going. Review the metrics above (and others) and then you’ll know if you need to make any tactical changes. If you need to adjust, you can do so with enough time for them to take effect.

#2 Perform an overall temperature check in early December.

The first full week of December is a crucial time for assessment. (Sometimes your bannermen need a stronger call to action from a persuasive ally.) Here are some questions to ask yourself in this noteworthy week:

  • Are my fundraising efforts producing the results I want?
  • Do I need to produce an additional, special appeal to long-standing donors who have not yet responded?
  • Have all my $1,000+ donors from last fiscal year renewed their gifts or do they need calls from the Executive Director or Board Chair?
  • Have I given my entire donor pool ways to participate in year-end giving?

#3 Capture your successes and failures.

Sit down and write yourself some notes for next year. Year-end is a flurry of activity and capturing your thoughts, reactions and ideas while they are still fresh can set you up for success next year. What worked well (Dragonglass kills White Walkers!) and should be remembered for next year (Undead Animal Wights are a thing!)? What was tested and failed? What do you wish you would have done differently?

Need help measuring and analyzing your performance?

Year-end fundraising efforts are a great time to implement and review metrics to help a department be sure it’s on course to meet its goals, but it’s difficult to do it effectively without pre-planned strategies and a clean and tidy database. As a full service consulting firm dedicated to nonprofit organizations and development professionals, Alford Group stands ready to analyze your fundraising performance, build coding structures and reports to inform year-over-year performance analysis and to clean-up your database to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples and pulling data efficiently.  Interested in learning more?

Contact us!

Disclaimer: We do not sell dragonglass.