Net Revenue Available to Program


Here’s a counter-intuitive truth to tuck away:

As a nonprofit’s donor file shrinks, their response rates for direct mail and email will tend to increase.

Wait, you might say… if a nonprofit is losing donors every year, why would their response rates be going up?

Response rates go up as an organization’s donor file is shrinking because the first donors to leave are the donors who are least engaged.  This means that the remaining donors are more engaged – and are more likely to respond to a piece of fundraising.

I saw this earlier today when I noticed that the year-end letter for one of our customers was sent to 18,000 donors this year, versus 23,000 donors last year. 

I thought to myself, “Well, at least their response rate probably went up.”

Lo and behold, their response rate went from 4.1% to 4.7%.

Their ROI went up, too: from 6.7:1 to 7.1:1

Hooray… right?

Nope.  They raised $20,000 LESS in net revenue.  (Remember, they sent the letter to 5,000 fewer donors.)

This is one of those times when two metrics that matter – ROI and Percent Response – went up.  But the metric that really matters – Net Revenue – went down.

The organization’s Board is happy that their ROI went up.  Weirdly, they are more proud of the increased ROI than they are worried about raising less money. 

Listen, I love to maximize ROI.  Probably more than the next guy.  But what matters most is Net Revenue.

I used to serve a brilliant fundraiser that always used the term “Net Revenue Available to Program.”  He’d never shorten it to “Net Revenue.” 

His insistence on using “Net Revenue Available to Program” was an outward sign of an inward focus that I took to heart: our primary job as Fundraisers is to end the year with as much money as possible to send to the programs in the field. 

Because you can maximize ROI and Response Rate all you want, but Net Revenue is the only thing you can send to the field.