Measuring Fundraising Success—cash doesn’t count

Fundraising for charitable organizations is one of those endeavors where you know when you’ve been successful—right?  Well, yes, maybe and no.

Yes, when you’ve reached a dollar target or goal you’ve been successful—at that point in time.  You may or may not have strengthened your relationships with donors that share your values.  And lastly, simply meeting a cash target tells you absolutely nothing about the overall health of your fundraising program.

Exceeding fundraising goals is one of the great satisfactions of being involved in a fundraising effort as either a volunteer or professional.  After all, raising money for worthy uses is what we’re all about.  That said, goals are reached at a point in time.  Unless your cause or organization exists for only that moment, you need to think about the future and how you will fulfill your mission in that time space.  Reaching today’s goals is not an indicator of future success.

When you exceed your fundraising revenue targets, you must also ask yourself how you got there.  Did you reach out to potential supporters and build upon common ground and values resulting in a meaningful investment from the donor?  Or—did you simply “canvas the neighborhood” pressuring individuals to give and taking whatever you could get from whomever?  If you’re looking to raise money one-up, the latter strategy will signal success.

If, however, you are building for lasting improvement and change, the “take no prisoners” strategy has the untoward effect of burning your bridges to those supporters who have the best reasons to make future investments in your organization.

Cash received is the result of actions taken in the past in situations that may or may not be repeatable.  This is the inherent difficulty of looking to what’s coming in the door today to evaluate what will come in tomorrow.    Far too many nonprofit board members—and staff for that matter—find concern or comfort in the current-cash-received total.

The wise volunteer or professional, on the other hand, is carefully gauging the direction and strength of the current as their boat moves along the stream.  By doing so, they gain a clear understanding of whether the organization is headed to a vast, tranquil lake of plenty or the crushing falls of failure.

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