Four Tips for Analyzing Your Fundraising Effectiveness

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Analytical Ones, the leading nonprofit donor data analysis firm. Bill, the founder and a personal friend, is an expert at helping you know what to measure in order to raise more money!

Four Tips for Analyzing Your Fundraising Effectiveness

In fundraising, there are just three strategies to increase your revenue: Win, Lift & Keep.

Win is acquiring first time donors or reactivating lapsed donors back; Lift is about your donors raising more money than they did the previous year; and Keep refers to retaining your donors from one year to the next.

The critical question is, which strategy should you focus on that will increase the revenue from your fundraising activities with the least amount of work on your part?

  1. Commit to Measuring Your Donors’ Fundraising Performance

    Peter Drucker once said, “If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” If the goal is to raise money for your organization, then it is imperative that you spend the time to thoroughly measure the fundraising outcomes of your activities and compare it to previous years. If you don’t, then your fundraising won’t improve. It’s that simple.

  2. Study Your New or Reactivated Donors over the past 3 years

    Every fundraiser should be able to answer these WIN questions:

    1. How many brand-new donors did we attract this year? And how does it compare to previous years?
    2. How many lapsed donors did we reactivate this year? And how does it compare to previous years?
    3. What percent of new and reactivated donors from last year gave this year? And how does it compare to previous years?
  3. Analyze Donors Giving Trends over the past 3 years

    Focus on these LIFT questions for your organization:

    1. What percent of the participants gave more revenue this year than last? And how does it compare to previous years?
    2. What percent of your donors made 8+ gifts? (These are great sustainer and planned giving prospects). And how does it compare to previous years?
    3. How much of your total revenue is coming from donors giving $10,000 or more? How does this compare to previous years?
  4. Measure Donor Retention

    Make a plan to know these KEEP metrics:

    1. What percent of the donors who gave last year gave this year? And how does it compare to previous years?
    2. What are your donor retention rates by Lifecycle? Are they improving over last year?
    3. What are your donor retention rates by donor value? How does it compare to last year?

If you commit to measuring the effectiveness of your fundraising, these nine Win, Lift & Keep metrics, will help you improve your organization’s fundraising.

PS – If some of these terms or metrics are new to you, please download our free “Guide to Fundraising Metrics” from the bottom of our homepage at

Ed. Note: This week is the launch of 4 new products to help you raise more money at year-end than you ever have before. Visit our store to see how to Keep and Lift your donors before the end of the year.

Don’t re-invent the wheel!

Year-end is fundraising prime time

Most nonprofits receive 1/3 of their annual donations just in the last few weeks of December!

No pressure … but that means there’s significant amount of funding riding on your year-end campaign!

Year-end fundraising is critical! But here’s some great news…

You now have access to the 4 tools that will give you everything you need to run your best year-end fundraising campaign ever.

It’s practically stress-free!

We’ve compiled decades of creative, tested, successful fundraising into tools you can use right now for success.

You don’t have to spend thousands on a year-end campaign!

These fantastic products will help you make the most of the all-important year-end fundraising season. Each one is designed for you to start using right now – saving you time and money!

As the saying goes, Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Take a look:

  • Your Best Ever Year-End Fundraising Calendar
    Your complete plan for fundraising: everything you need to do at year-end for maximum results, as well as tips and tricks for each channel. It’s a blueprint you can follow for proven success! $99
  • Successful Year-End Fundraising Letter Samples
    Save time by following a guaranteed formula for success. Borrow what you want from these sample letters that are proven winners year after year. $129
  • Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit
    Learn how to run a successful year-end digital campaign. Get samples you can use now to create emails, splash pages, homepage promos and social media advertising. $149
  • Major Donor Year-End Fundraising Webinar: The System To Maximize Relationships & Revenue
    Join us for a live webinar on October 12 at 10 a.m. (PST) to get a simple system that will help you raise more money and steward your most important relationships. $179

It’s our business to help nonprofits like yours achieve fundraising goals and develop generous donors. We’re here to help you make Year-End 2017 your best fundraising season ever!

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How to 8x Your Appeal Results

A client of ours was thrilled with the first appeal we did for them; it raised 8 times more than the appeal letter they sent to their donors the previous month.

Both letters were sent to the same group of donors, during the summer, roughly a month apart. (And there weren’t any results-skewing shenanigans like ‘we added a matching grant’ or ‘the second appeal went only to Major Donors.’)

There was much rejoicing! But at first they thought it was some kind of fundraising magic. So we showed them that the appeal just followed a proven formula that works for all different kinds and sizes of nonprofits.

We’re not talking big numbers here; their previous appeal raised $2,157. Our appeal raised $18,095. I mention this because even the smallest organizations can use the storytelling and fundraising principles I’m about to show you to raise a lot more money!

Here’s a part of the appeal letter this nonprofit sent just before working with us:

“When Sara and her two children moved from Florida to Washington, the last thing she expected to be was homeless.

Sara was excited about a new job opportunity in Seattle, but the job fell through and suddenly she was living out of her car. Her children, 5-year-old Jasmin and 12-year-old Luke, were devastated. Sara, Luke, and Jasmin wondered about things like; where would their next meal come from, would they ever have a roof over their head again, and how could they excel in school? Sara discovered Acres of Diamonds and made the difficult call to ask for help. Acres welcomed her warmly, and now this family resides at Acres getting help to rebuild their lives. Sara’s children suffered emotionally while living in their car, especially Jasmin. When she arrived at Acres, she was withdrawn and sad. Now that she has a place to call home, Jasmin is a vibrant kindergartner who looks forward to school and can be seen with a smile on her face. Luke is getting the support he needs to be successful in 7th grade. Through prayer and effort, Sara now has a job to provide for her family. Over time, Acres of Diamonds will support Sara and her children through The Path to Graduation programs. They will transition to independent living because of the generous support from people like you.

Will you help us continue this important work with families like Jasmin’s? Simply return the enclosed card…”

There are a couple things I want you to notice:

  • The family in the letter has already been helped. To repeat: they don’t need help. The ‘problem’ is already solved.
  • In the overall story this organization is telling in this letter, the donor doesn’t have an interesting, powerful role to play. All the donor can do is “continue this important work”
  • If the donor were to give a gift, they don’t know what sized gift will make a real difference – something that is very important for donors to know.

That is not a compelling fundraising letter and the results prove it. This letter falls into one of the most common fundraising letter traps.

Now look at the next letter this nonprofit sent to their donors, with our help:

“I have some urgent news to share with you.

Just a few days ago my phone rang and I received word that another mom and her 3 kids were in desperate need of help. Julianne had just fled her abuser. She was able to escape with her 3 kids in tow. But she had no place to go.

Stories like this one are all too common here at Acres. The need for more stable housing and resources to help homeless moms and kids is at an all-time high.

Our resources are thin right now and I could sure use your help. Homelessness does not take a summer vacation!

Your $35 gift secures a night of safety for one child or one mom.

Can I count on you to provide 1 night, 3 nights, maybe 5 nights of safety? Every night matters and brings a mom and her kids one step closer to feeling safe.”

Compare that letter to the first letter. See how there is:

  1. A problem to be solved — people that need help today!
  2. A specific way the donor’s gift will help, and a specific amount to do it.
  3. A clear way the donor can be the hero by sending in a gift today.

For your next appeal, whether it’s a mailed appeal letter, an e-appeal or an event, I encourage you to try this approach. You can be confident that it’s going to work; this is a proven, market-tested way of asking donors for support that works again and again.

And if you’d like to find out more, download our free eBook, Storytelling for ACTION. You’ll learn the three things nobody told you about using stories to raise money — including the two best types of stories and when to tell them.

Why We Are All Hypocrites About Fundraising Plans

A close up shot of a black locomotive speeding down the tracks

“It’s like you have been in our office!”

We hear this every once in a while from new clients. It usually happens near the end of summer when we’re helping them create their year-end fundraising plan.

We make a plan and everyone is excited. Then we say to them, “This is great. But now let’s talk about what could derail the plan.” Here’s the list:

  • A board member or program staff is going to object to the way a letter is written. At the last minute. Multiple times.
  • Someone will get excited about a new opportunity. They’ll want you to drop what you’re doing and do their (untested, unproven) thing.
  • You won’t actually start early enough. Things will take longer than you expect or (more likely) there are some parts of the job that you don’t like as much as others.
  • Someone will run late. Your website doesn’t get updated or you don’t get the info you need when you need it.
  • You’ll simply run out of time, unable to get everything done because there’s too much on your plate.

It happens to everyone. We all say we want a great plan. But then we don’t actually follow the plan and it never gets completed.

It happens to us, too. As I write this, we’re about to launch an online store with products like a tested year-end fundraising calendar proven to raise the most money. The plan was to launch a month ago!

Because we know your reality, we’re not going to give you trite advice like, “Have a plan and work your plan.” You know that already.

What you (and I) really need is practical advice on how to do our best fall and year-end fundraising when you know there are going to be a ton of distractions.

Here are the three things that have helped our clients. They aren’t “tips” or “weird tricks” — think of them as accumulated wisdom from the fundraisers that have gone before us:

1. Know how much money is at stake, and what percentage it is of your income.

In a word, this is the “why” your plan exists. You need to be able to say to someone, “We have a plan to raise $3.2 million before December 31st. That’s 40% of our total revenue.” Sharing the big picture quickly — and how important it is for your organization — is a very effective way to get things done. You’ll love how people will say, “Oh, you’re right, we can try my new idea in February.” Or, “That’s right, I’ll get that to you right away.” But if it’s just business as usual, we’re busy because that’s the way it always is, say, “bye-bye” to your plan.

2. Prioritize your priorities.

In addition to knowing how much money you expect to raise, know how much you expect to raise through your major donors, your mail, your email, your website, Giving Tuesday, etc. Then prioritize your time and attention on the actions that bring in the most money. That way when something comes up (which it will) or you run out of time (which you will), you can make a smart choice about what not to do. We’ve watched organizations focus on an email that will bring in $15k but neglect following up with a major donor who always gave them $50k. These types of things happen all the time — but not as much when you and your team have a list, on your desk, of which efforts produce the most revenue for your organization.

3. Publish your plan.

By this we mean, make your plan public. Post it on your door. Show the board at your October meeting. Talk about it in your first November staff meeting. Tell people what you’re working on and what’s at stake. They will be far more likely to be helpful in November and December when they know that there’s a really good reason why you’re so busy!

So, you still need to make a great plan. But use these three practical ideas to help you stick as closely to your plan as you can during the most important (and distraction filled) time of the year!

Over-Communicate and Don’t Be Late!

A white, analog alarm clock sits on a white table with a white background

A couple of years ago we were part of a fundraising disaster for one of our clients:

  • Their Thanksgiving appeal letter raised only $31,000. It had raised $47,000 the previous year.
  • Then their Christmas letter raised just $17,000. It had raised $41,000 the previous year.


The reason why they raised so much less was really simple: both letters mailed late. Really late.

Through an unholy combination of a new working relationship, a project management snafu and unanswered emails, the Thanksgiving letter mailed 6 days before Thanksgiving. The Christmas letter mailed just 4 days before Christmas.

The effect on fundraising was devastating. (The effect on our relationship with the organization was also devastating. But I’m happy to say that they are still a client today; everyone fails sooner or later, but it’s often how you respond after failure that builds or breaks relationships.)

Why am I telling you this? Because the whole incident reminded me of a core principle for successful fundraising during the last few weeks of the year:

— Over communicate and don’t be late —

Your donors are so busy. And they support so many worthy causes. They love giving to you, but your chances of getting a year-end gift plummet if you don’t communicate with them often enough during the last few weeks of the year.

All your work — all year long — comes to fruition during the last few weeks of the year. Make sure you have a plan that gets your year-end Ask in front of your donors in time (and often enough) — and a production schedule to make sure you aren’t late and miss important days during the most important time of the year!

P.S. – Year-end fundraising is the easiest time to raise more money than you expect. We’re about to launch a set of products expressly created to help you raise more money in November and December. Ever wanted samples of really successful year-end letters and online fundraising? Or a calendar that tells you exactly when to send your letters, your emails, and update your website at year-end? Watch this space in the next couple of weeks!

Seattle Training: Supercharge Your Year-End Fundraising

Are you ready for year-end fundraising season?

The Tested, Proven Plan for Year-End Fundraising

Year-end fundraising can make or break your goal. The stakes are high — but it’s the easiest time of year to raise even more money.

Jim and Steven will give you detailed direction on how to engage your donors and raise as much money as you can before midnight, December 31st.

They’ll be sharing proven, high-performing samples that you can use to create your own year-end fundraising. You’ll leave with actionable next-steps for what will work for your organization, and a head-start on your plan!

Right here in downtown Seattle, on the morning of September 21st, you can take part in this helpful two-part seminar for just $45:

  • Part 1 — The field-tested schedule (with exact dates) and content (and samples!) to help you succeed this fall.
  • Part 2 — A workshop where you’ll have a chance to start writing your year-end appeal and banner for your website. We’ll review several of them and improve them as a group. You’ll leave with actionable next-steps for what will work for your organization, and a head-start on your year-end work!

You’ll learn:

  • What not to include in your year-end fundraising
  • Why communicating more than you’re used to is the right thing to do for your donors
  • The simple email trick that makes creating your year-end email easier
  • Jim will share his major donor system to increase your chances of getting major gifts before December 31st

Jim and Steven will give you detailed direction on how to engage your donors and raise as much money as you can before midnight, December 31st. They’ll be sharing proven, high-performing samples that you can use to create your own year-end fundraising. You’ll leave with actionable next-steps for what will work for your organization, and a head-start on your year-end work!

Register today!


Cost: $45

When: Thursday, September 21, 2017; 9:00am – 12:00pm

Where: 415 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109

Parking: Street and garage parking nearby


  • 9:00am – 9:15am: Networking & Coffee
  • 9:15am – 10:30am: Year-end Calendar and Schedule
  • 10:40am – 11:45am: Workshop your year-end Ask
  • 11:45am – 12:00pm: Question & Answer

​Improve Your Fall Fundraising the charity: water Way

Had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water for the Fundraising Is Beautiful podcast.

There’s a TON of tips you can use to improve your fall fundraising results! You’ll hear Scott talk about:

  • How important immediacy is
  • How to take your donors on a journey with every piece of donor communications
  • How charity: water “productizes” what they do to make it easy for donors to understand and then do something meaningful with each gift
  • How he’s comfortable sharing bad news with donors, and why that ultimately helps his organization.

I really encourage you to go take a listen. (And even subscribe!) I’m a better fundraiser for having listened to Scott, and you will be too! Here’s the link.

The Simple Outline for Appeals That Raise Money

I noticed a pattern that I want to share with you.

We see a LOT of appeals around here and I read them all. And we spend a lot of time with the results because we want our coaching to be based on what works, not on what we like.

About a week ago I noticed the appeals that did not work well tended to follow the same general outline. It goes something like this:

  1. Thank you for helping in the past
  2. Let me tell you a story about someone we already helped
  3. Please help us continue this good work

I think this is fascinating because every step of that outline makes sense:

  • Of course you should thank your donors for their previous giving. That’s just being polite, and it reminds them that they’ve given before.
  • Of course you should tell them a story about a person (or thing) that’s already been helped. That shows the donor that their past gifts made a difference, that the donor can trust you, and that your organization is effective.
  • And of course you should ask them to help you continue the good work. You need their donations, and the work is good.

But here’s the thing; even though every step in that outline makes sense, appeal letters and e-appeals that follow this outline don’t raise as much money as they could. We know this from years of experimenting and testing. This is one of those places in fundraising where common sense isn’t the best sense. What you need is data.

So what’s the alternative? Here’s the outline that works best for our clients:

  1. There’s a problem right now
  2. You are needed to solve it
  3. Here’s how your gift will solve it

When our clients adopt this outline, their appeals and e-appeals immediately start to raise more money.

The next time you are appealing for funds, follow this model. You’ll raise more money. And your donors will love knowing that they helped solve a real, urgent problem.

I mean that. If you honor and respect your donors by sharing real problems that your beneficiaries and your organization are facing, Donors will love helping you. Be vulnerable with your donors, and they will reward you with their generosity!

If you want to go deeper on this issue, download our free eBook!

How To Write This Fall – Tips For Fundraising Success

An old typewriter sits on a wooden desk

Fundraising Season is beginning . . . and you’re going to write to your donors a LOT in the next few months. And I have an important tip for you.

Don’t assume your donors will read what you write.

Donors are moving fast (especially in their inbox). They are busy. They support multiple charities. And they don’t have to read your organization’s communications.

Right? Nothing bad happens to your donors if they don’t read your stuff. Their life just goes on. And as a matter of fact they’ve saved themselves some time.

So what is a nonprofit writer to do?

In almost all cases you have to earn their attention by being relevant and getting to the point quickly.

So pay special attention to your first sentence. Think of it this way: your first sentence has to earn your reader’s attention enough so that they want to read your second sentence.

I use two main strategies to get more people to read our clients’ fundraising materials:

#1 Very quickly state the point of your letter/email/brochure. Why are you writing the donor today? If you want the donor to do something, say it clearly right away.

We’ve improved the fundraising results for hundreds of organizations just by helping their fundraising materials get to the point faster. Because most nonprofits seem to assume that their donors will read the whole thing. So, they take a long time to get to the point, and then they only mention the point once.

My operating principle is that maybe 10% of donors will read it, but 50% of people will skim it IF you give them something interesting/urgent/valuable enough to skim.

Note those percentages don’t add up to 100%. That’s because no matter what you do, a significant percentage of donors are either going to miss or not read each message you send out. And that, my friend, is why nonprofits need to communicate more often than they think they do. Because most nonprofits assume every donor receives and reads every message. That’s a long way from what actually happens.

OK. The second way I get people to read is to use drama and tension.

#2 Write such a drama-filled first sentence that the reader really wants to know what the second sentence says.

Pick right up in the middle of the beneficiary story you’re telling. Or summarize the most drama-filled moment. But use emotion to get a reader curious about what happens next.

Here’s a great example, “When the police rang the doorbell, Gloria didn’t know what she was going to do.” This works for even the most boring subjects! “Our fiscal year end is approaching and I don’t think we’re going to make budget” is the opening line of one of the most successful letters I ever wrote.

So when you’re writing this fall, remember that your donors are busy and moving fast. Pay special attention to the very first sentences of anything you put out there. And I guarantee you that if you earn your donor’s attention, you’ll earn more of their donations!