It’s January! Time for Your Annual Fundraising Check Up

A key aspect of effective fundraising is evaluation. January is the time to look back and decide what you did right and what you did wrong over the last year. I believe effective evaluation utilizes both soft and hard information and data points. I’m going to address evaluation in two posts. This one focuses on an assessment from a hard data standpoint. As they say, “the numbers don’t lie”. The next post will give you some pointers on evaluating last year’s performance from a soft side. 

Now by its very nature, fundraising data analysis cannot be comprehensively covered in one blog post. I’ll just touch on some of the highlights that I think it’s wise to take a look at this time of year. 

Here we go:

Counting Donors

Total Donors

First, how many people donated to your organization in the past 12 months? The reason this is important is obvious. Growth in the number means you’re making progress. Decline isn’t a good sign. But other factors need to be taken into consideration. Why did your number go up? (or down?) Did you implement new programs to obtain donors? Did you execute an additional event? Buy a supplemental mailing list? If you did, kudos for proactivity. But at the same time, those additional efforts cost you something in time and money, so you do need to do an evaluation as to whether or not those extra efforts were worth it. 

Considering Major Donors

Donor numbers part 2 to look at is major donors. Now the concept of a “major” donor means different things to different organizations. For some, the threshold of a major donor is $1000 per year; for others it might be $5000; for still others, really large organizations, it might be $10,000 per year. My suggestion is to establish a fixed number and evaluate your performance year over year against that number. For example, perhaps you simply say, anyone who gives a single donation of $1000 or more in a year is a major donor. If so, you pull those people out of your main list and evaluate performance gain or loss (in all categories covered in this post) separately for people who fit your criteria. The issues related to major donor fund development are extensive and we will look at those in greater detail in the future. 

First Time Donors

Second, how many people gave to your organization for the first time? This too is of obvious importance. How does the number of new donors this year compare to last year’s? Did you do better? Worse? And once again, why? In my next post we’ll unpack more of this “why” assessment. For now, it’s just a good idea to get a handle on how many new donors you have this year compared to how many new donors you had last year. 

Activated Donors

Third, how many people gave both a first and a second time to your organization during the last 12 months? This is your donor “activation” number. We distinguish this from simply “new” donors because a second gift indicates a strengthening resonance with your cause. A person’s first gift might have been driven by a largely emotional response to an ad they saw or an appeal they read. Or, an individual approached them about supporting a need because of a 10k run sponsorship or some similar effort. The “donation” was driven by guilt, compassion, or a major or minor sense of personal obligation. This gets into “donative intent” which is a bigger subject than this piece, but all this is worth thinking about. A second gift in a 12 month period usually (not always, but usually) indicates some sort of growing resonance with your mission. More on this topic in the future, but keeping an eye on those “two-timers” (so to speak!) is worth the effort. 

Lapsed Donors

Fourth, let’s look at lapsed donors. These are people who gave to your organization the year before the one just concluded, but not in the last 12 months. People stop giving for all kinds of reasons, and we’ll explore why this happens, along with ideas and strategies to reactivate them in future posts. For now, just get a raw indicator: what percentage of the people who gave in the period 13 to 24 months ago, did not give in the last 12 months. This is your lapsed donor rate, and you of course want it to be as low as possible. 

Counting Donations

After examining donor information, it’s time to look at donation information. It’s critical of course, to know not just how many people gave to you, but how much they gave. I like to evaluate this, in simple terms, next to the raw numbers of people who gave, by category. 

Donation Summary

If you’re creating a spreadsheet, put the total income in the column next to the number of donors. Then look at that total number by donor category, dividing it up between major donors and regular donors (everyone else!). Once you’ve entered this you can also easily calculate average donations, and if you put this year’s information against last year’s, you can easily calculate the percentage growth or decline. 

First Time Donations

It’s worth looking at the amount of income you’ve generated from first time donors this year. Replacing donors that fall away is pivotal to the ongoing health of your bottom line. Just as any business values “new customers”, getting new donors is a sign of health. Much could be said about communicating with new donors and how much you value them, but for now, let’s just evaluate the amount of income this group generated for you this year. 

Activated Donor Donations

As previously explained, an activated donor is one who has given a second gift to you. In evaluating income from this category, I like to look at the amount of additional income you received from donors in this category through their second gift. You can get fancy if you want, and look at the amount of income from those who gave one gift, and then the amount of income from the first and second gifts separately of those who are activated donors. This will drive home the importance of getting those who give once, to give again. 

Lapsed – Revenue Lost

As painful as it is, it’s worth having a line on your spreadsheet showing how much money you might have seen come in if you hadn’t had any donors lapse. This number is calculated by looking at the group of lapsed donors you have identified, noting how much they gave in their last active year, and therefore how much income you have missed out on because they didn’t give again last year. In future posts we’ll unpack strategies related to donor retention (so you don’t lose people in the first place) and donor reactivation (getting the donations back that you’ve lost). 

Well, that’s probably enough for today! I typically calculate that it takes about a half a day to do the evaluation I’ve outlined above. While if you’re not really a “numbers person” you might find the process onerous, going through it will invigorate you, because you’ll begin to think of all sorts of strategies you can implement to improve your fundraising performance next year. 

If we can do anything to help you evaluate your fundraising let us know. We love helping people assess performance and then seek to improve!  You can reach us at or by calling 847-788-8100.  


Robb Hansen is the president and founder of Next Level Insights, a Chicago area based fundraising strategy and execution firm. Give Next Level a call to discuss how we can help you today!