Fundraising Metrics That Work—or don’t


Earlier this week, I was running a few errands close to my office on my vehicle of choice-my Harley Davidson.  It’s a late model Fat Boy incorporating the latest technical advances with a high level of reliability.  Unlike the bikes that Harley produced in the 70’s and 80’s, when telling someone that you rode a Harley garnered more sympathy than admiration from a fellow biker.


On the return trip to my office, to my surprise and frustration, the bike began to sputter and backfire.   It finally died altogether.  I rolled it into a nearby parking lot and phoned the shop.  Fortunately, the owner was still there, as it was closing time.  As I have a long-standing customer relationship with him-a good subject for another post on sustainable fundraising-he quickly agreed to come and get the bike.


The next day Tim called and gave me the lowdown.  It seems the bike had run out of gas.   Before you double over in laughter-the first response of everyone who has heard me recount this tale-I did check the fuel gauge.  It seems that the gauge, itself, was broken.  Hmmmm.


Many nonprofit leaders find themselves in the position of wondering, “What happened?”  when fundraising revenue takes a sharp-and unexpected-downturn.  More often than not, external forces like the economy, “competition” from other organizations seeking funds, and even a lack of generosity on the part of the donors-are assigned the blame for this unwelcome loss.


But are they responsible?  In the same way that it was neither the road, the weather nor traffic that resulted in my bike suddenly quitting on me, it is often our reliance on program metrics that are, themselves, faulty that result in a fundraising failure.


Take current use cash, for example.  I have sat through countless board meetings where board members and staffers alike some how assume that the cash received in the immediate past quarter is predictive of future performance.  Cash received is an accounting metric, not a fundraising one.  What’s the adage, “Past performance is a not a predictor of future performance?”


Principle 8 of The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising® is Invest, Integrate & Evaluate™.   Knowing where your fundraising program really stands is essential.  Be sure you’re using the right gauges.

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