What to Measure, and What to Evaluate, in Fundraising

Three gauges.

This post is written for smaller nonprofits.

The goal is to show you what data to track, and then what to evaluate, in your fundraising.

Most small nonprofits don’t realize it, but every single thing they ever send to their donors is a test. It’s a test to see whether their donors respond or not. So these nonprofits are performing all these tests, and creating incredible data about what their donors like and dislike – and not paying attention to it.

My goal today is to give you a great start into what to track, and then what to evaluate, so that you learn as much as possible from all these fundraising experiments you’re performing.

And you’re not learning just for learning’s sake. You should be doing this because you will raise more money faster.

Example for You

Say you’ve sent an appeal letter at Thanksgiving for the last five years. If you track the right information every year, you will know which of those Thanksgiving appeals was most effective with your donors.

Then you can “repeat” and improve your best-performing Thanksgiving letter. That’s how save time and raise more money each year.


Here’s a list of the primary metrics we recommend tracking. (Of course there are more if you get into the details. These are the primary ones.) If you track these, you’ll be able to properly evaluate the performance of your main fundraising efforts…

  • Mail: # Sent, # Gifts, Total Expense, Gross Revenue
  • Email: # Sent, Open Rate, Click-through Rate, # Gifts, Gross Revenue
  • Event: # Invited, # attended, # who gave, Total Expense, Gross Revenue
  • Major Gifts Programs: # major donors, # gifts, Total Expense, Gross Revenue

I should mention that this assumes you have donor software that tracks every gift.


If you track the right metrics, you can calculate and then evaluate the right metrics.

You can use the info above to calculate the metrics you should be using to evaluate the performance of your fundraising impacts.

For each of the types above, here’s how we evaluate performance. The metrics are listed more-or-less in order of importance…

  • Mail: Net Revenue, ROI, % Response, Average Gift
  • Email: Net Revenue, % Response, Open Rate, Click-through Rate
  • Event: Net Revenue, Average Gift per person, % of attendees who gave
  • Major Gifts Programs: Net Revenue, major donor retention rate, revenue retention rate

Like I mentioned earlier, you can go waaaaaay deeper into metrics for all of these. But today’s post is for the organization that wants to really understand and evaluate their fundraising – so that they can get better faster.

And if you want to see what this looks like in action for direct mail, grab our free proforma excel template for data tracking.

What We Don’t Measure

Now, you might notice that there are several things that we didn’t recommend measuring:

  • Complaints
  • Board Member reactions
  • Program Staff feedback

Of course, if Board members and program staff spot factual inaccuracies, you absolutely need to take their feedback. But as for whether they like it or not, or whether they think it will work, or whether they would prefer that you use different words, we don’t measure that.

Why? They are experts on your organization and your cause. They know far more than donors. But your fundraising should be aimed at donors, not experts! Your fundraising should use words and concepts that motivate donors to give gifts, not motivate in-house experts to give gifts.

#donorlove is in the data

One of the best things a small nonprofit can do is to establish a culture of tracking and evaluating everything fundraising.

In my experience, the organizations that do that tend to grow faster. They tend to raise more money. They also tend to have stronger relationships with their donors. Why? Because paying attention to what donors respond to is a pure form of #donorlove!