Create a Fundraising Plan: Defining Fundraising Metrics

The great Management Theory guru, Peter Drucker, once said, “What gets measured, gets improved.

Fundraising success isn’t just defined by how much money you raise.  Don’t get me wrong, this is the most important metric you need to keep before you because it directly affects the financial health of your organization.  If you can’t raise enough to meet your organization’s core operating expenses, you’ve got a big problem.  We all know that fundraising is the sum total of many different moving parts and levels of involvement by different people.  If we are only measuring our success by how much we bring in, then we are missing an important opportunity to grow and evolve.

How well do you really know your organization’s fundraising health and all the factors that influence whether or not you are actually raising sustainable money?

Metrics on any level are important because they give you the data to make informed decisions about where you can build off your successes and identify opportunities for improvement.  I’m not suggesting a whole system of complicated (and time-consuming to calculate) benchmarks for the sake of having them.  If your Development team is small and/or your database isn’t especially adept at helping you track key indicators, you’ll end up wasting precious time that you should be using to fundraise.

To help you make your fundraising efforts as effective as possible, keep track of three key areas critical to effective fundraising: donors’ behavior and giving patterns, return of your fundraising costs, and the level of your leadership engagement.  Depending on your internal capacity, you may choose one or two from each of the following categories to start.  Compare a few fiscal years to offer the best picture of trends in your performance so you can determine where you need to build on your wins and make course corrections:

Donor Behavior:

  1. Donor File Size—How many do you have?  How many of them are new, LYBUNTS (gave last year but not yet this year), and SYBUNTS (have given in the past but not last  year or this year)?
  2. Donor Retention—How many of your donors are renewing their gifts every year?
  3. Snapshot of Donor Giving Levels— Are the giving levels of your donors increasing, decreasing, or staying the same? If you can track donors by various gift ranges ($1-$249, $250-$499, $500-$999, and so on), you can see where to focus attention on upgrading maybe through increased donor communication or staff/Board outreach.  You can also drill deeper into identifying donors who could become Major Gifts prospects.
  4. Breakdown by Revenue Source—How are your donors supporting you?  Through Direct Mail, online donations, Monthly Giving, Events? How have your fundraising activities performed over the last few years?
  5. Donor Acquisition—You likely have a multi-channel fundraising approach which includes social media and more, shall I say, “traditional” fundraising methods (direct mail, online giving, etc.). How many new “friends” are signing up for your electronic communications or are promoting you through their social media outlets?  How many of them are becoming donors? This helps you understand how prospective donors are finding you and what may or may not be influencing their decision to convert their interest into a gift.


  1. Cost to Raise a Dollar (CTRD)—How much are you spending versus how much you are raising?  If you have a small staff and limited budget, focus on those activities that have the best ROI.  For example, events have notably higher CTRD than major gifts fundraising and fundraising from existing donors has a lower CTRD than from non-donors.
  2. Average Gift—Hopefully this average gift size is increasing to show deeper investment by your donors. If it isn’t, what ways can you build better relationships and communicate more effectively across multiple channels?


  1. Percentage of Board Giving—How many of your Board members are making their own gift?  It should be 100%.  If it’s not, evaluate why and how to get full participation.
  2. Amount of Board Giving—On average, Board giving (not including soft credit for gifts they facilitate) tends to be less than 10% of an organization’s overall fundraising total.  How does your Board giving compare?
  3. Percentage of Board Involved in Fundraising—It’s important for your Board to involved in some aspect of fundraising.  Remember, they don’t all have to be asking but there is a role for each Board member to play!

If you have frontline fundraisers, a relatively good (or at least decent) database, and plans to launch or have an already established Major Gifts program (or any combination of these three), consider these metrics:

Donor Behavior:

  1. Mid-Level Donors—How you define “mid-level” will vary depending on what you consider a “major gift.” If we use $1,000-$9,999 as an example of mid-level donors, look at how these donors’ gifts are tracking.  Who can you add to your Major Gifts pipeline for further qualification through research and staff visits?
  2. Number of Meaningful Donor Touchpoints—Fundraising is about building relationships to lead you to successful solicitations. Frontline Major Gifts Officers (MGOs) should be making 10-15 face-to-face meetings each month and actively working about one-third of their portfolio toward a solicitation. That equates to two-three solicitations made per month (basing it on a donor portfolio of about 150). Are they on track?  If not, what support or other staff/Board involvement do your MGOs need?
  3. Number of Gifts Closed to Ask—This is helpful to track your frontline fundraisers’ success in measuring how many asks (whether annual or major gift) they are making and how many are successful.

Think of metrics as the vital signs of your organization’s financial health.  They provide you with different ways to keep an eye on all the factors that determine whether or not the plans you’ve put in place will lead to a successful fundraising year.

This blog first was first featured on Network for Good’s page in 2015 and has since been updated.

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