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7 Fundraising Stats to Help You Plan for 2018

Calendar Year 2018 Number Turn Of The YearIn the midst of your year-end fundraising, you may also be looking ahead to 2018, especially if your organization’s fiscal year corresponds to the calendar year.

Here are 7 stats you can output from your donor database to help you plan for 2018. Run all of these statistics for each year for the last five years (2013 – 2017). This should help you see trends and identify areas of emphasis for next year’s fundraising plan.

New donors acquired

  • How many new donors did your organization acquire this year?
  • Of donor prospects solicited, how many responded (acquisition rate)?

Retention rate

  • Of those donors who gave last year, how many gave again this year?
  • Of those donors whose first gift was last year, how many gave again this year?

Dollars raised by donor type

  • What percentage of the dollars you raised last year came from individuals, foundations, businesses etc.?
  • What percentage of gifts given came from these donor types?

Dollars raised by channel

  • What percentage of dollars raised came from mail, online giving, events, in-person asks, telephone and/or grant proposals?
  • What percentage of gifts given came from these channels?

Dollars raised by appeal

  • Which solicitations were most successful last year in dollars raised, number of gifts and average gift size? Check out this post for more ideas on analyzing your solicitation success.

Dollars raised by fund

  • How were total dollars raised broken out by funds/designations?
  • How were the total number of gifts allocated among funds/designations?

Dollars raised by campaign priority

  • If you are in a fundraising campaign, what was your total dollars raised by priority?
  • What were the total number of gifts given by priority?

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Send a little extra love to your best donors this holiday season


The holidays are a great time to demonstrate our gratitude to the donors who support our organizations’ missions. Here’s an easy project you can use to identify a short list of your best donors so you can send them a little extra bit of holiday cheer, like a special holiday card signed by your program participants or your board.

Or, you might use this method to identify donors you want to get in touch with to share your organization’s plans for 2018. Not coincidentally, this project will help you uncover some of your best major giving prospects.

We’re going to look for our recent donors who are the most loyal, and who’ve given the most. This is no accident: retailers use Recency, Frequency and Monetary (RFM) scoring to identify their best customers: those who have shopped recently, often, and spent the most.

Doing an RFM project is a fun and relatively easy way to segment your donor pool. But you probably don’t have time for that right now, because you’ve got a million other year-end projects to do. So, we’re going to apply the principles of RFM scoring without doing all the work. That way, your list will include not only your biggest donors from this year, but also those who have been the most loyal and who have given you the most over their lifetimes.

Pull your list

First, use your fundraising database’s reporting tool to pull a list of everyone who has given in either this fiscal year or last fiscal year. Include the following fields in your outputs: donor name, this year’s cumulative giving, last year’s cumulative giving, the year before that, etc., for a total of five years of giving history, each in its own column in your spreadsheet. Also include cumulative lifetime giving.

If your project involves mailing, go ahead and include all the outputs you need for your mail merge, like mailing label name, salutation, and address fields. That way, you’ll have your mailing list ready to go after you are done with your prospect identification.

Open your list in Excel, and add an extra column to the end of your list called “Holiday”. As you identify donors, add an “X” in this column for each donor to be included. Then, use these methods to identify which donors should get the “X” in the holiday column.

Top monetary donors: this year, last year, all time

Think about what a “top” donor means to your organization. Is it people who have given more than $100, $1,000, $10,000 or $100,000 in a single year? What cumulative giving amount would signify a “top” donor for you?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, that’s okay. For each category, identify the top 3% – 10% of donors based on your criteria. The percentage you select will depend on your donor pool’s size and your time/budget for this project.

Start by sorting your list in descending order (biggest amount first) by this year’s giving total. Flag the top donors based on amount by putting an X in the holiday column.

To make sure you don’t miss any recent large donors, sort your list again in descending order, this time by last year’s total giving. Flag any top donors who you did not already identify in your first sort.

Finally, sort your list by cumulative lifetime giving. Flag any top donors who are not already flagged. These donors may not be your largest donors this year or last, but they are still some of your top supporters of all time.

Loyal donors

Large gifts are wonderful. However, don’t forget about your loyal donors: the people who give to you every single year.

Identify anyone who has given in five out of the last five years. If you are only midway through your fiscal year, you may decide to look at giving in the five complete fiscal years prior to this one.

Identifying these loyal donors is fairly easy to do using an Excel function called COUNTIF. COUNTIF counts the number of cells that meet a certain condition.

Add a column to your spreadsheet called “Density”, which is a fancy way of saying, “In what percentage of years did this person give?” Then add your COUNTIF formula to this column.

In this example spreadsheet, we have five years of giving, from 2009 to 2013. Column V contains the Density formula, which in this example would be:


density screenshot

This formula will look in the columns that contain your giving information (H – L in this example; adjust this to fit your spreadsheet), and will count any that are greater than $0. So, if someone has given in five out of five years (that is, they have five gift history cells with a value greater than zero), then they will score a 5.

Anyone who has a 5 is a loyal donor who is a great candidate for your special holiday efforts or other outreach you may plan to top donors.


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Last chance to vent or rave about your donor data – survey closes today!


Today is the last day to participate in Fundraising Nerd’s Your Donor Database and You Survey. The survey takes about 5 minutes, and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win my new book, Donor Database Fundamentals, due out this spring. Every participant will also receive a summary of survey results, so you’re a winner either way.

You’ll also win my gratitude for helping me understand how best to help fundraising professionals like you make your donor database work.

Please take the survey! And please share with your colleagues too. Thank you!

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Thank you.


Thank you.

If you are reading this, I am grateful to you. You are a part of a generous community of colleagues and friends who have taught me so much and given me a ton of support over the years. It is because of you that Fundraising Nerd exists!

We are lucky to be part of a profession that celebrates giving and gratitude every day. As the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, I wanted to remind you that you are appreciated for all you do for your organization’s mission and the people it serves, your organization’s donors, your co-workers, and your other colleagues.

You’re the best! Thank you.

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Lessons from the Trump Foundation: Why your donor can’t use their donor advised fund to purchase tickets to your nonprofit event


The Trump Foundation has been in the news lately over some questionable uses of its funds, including settling legal matters related to Donald Trump’s companies and buying a huge portrait of Trump to hang at one of his resorts. Though this is an extreme example of misuse of funds, it is also an instructive example for nonprofit organizations.

What does this have to do with the average nonprofit? Sometimes our well-intentioned donors are not fully aware of IRS regulations that affect them. As fundraising professionals, sometimes we have to gently educate our donors on what kinds of gifts we are able to accept, so that we can all avoid angering the IRS.

With a continued increase in donor advised funds, more and more donors are using giving vehicles that subject them to different IRS rules than they faced as individual donors.  This arises most commonly when it comes to events. Some donors would prefer to pay for event tickets using their donor advised fund or their personal foundation. Unfortunately, the IRS is not having it.

Both the Trump Foundation’s questionable use of funds, and your donor’s use of their foundation or donor advised fund to buy event tickets, are examples of “self-dealing”. Self-dealing means personally benefiting from a purportedly-charitable contribution. Charity, by its definition, is about benefiting people other than yourself, so you can see the issue.

Trump is facing the self-dealing issue as both a contributor and as a leader of his foundation. We’ll break down the issues with self-dealing specifically pertaining to his status as a donor, but it’s helpful to know that these same issues pertain to any foundation leader due to their leadership status.

When an individual donor gives their money to a private foundation or a donor-advised fund, that is considered a personal charitable contribution. Later, when the fund or foundation makes a gift to a nonprofit organization, that gift is legally from the fund/foundation, not the individual donor. This is why you don’t send a tax receipt to an individual donor when their fund or foundation makes a gift.

When the individual gave to their fund or foundation, they were potentially able to claim the full amount of their contribution as tax-deductible. If this same money is later used to benefit the individual donor, say by settling his lawsuits or buying a giant painting of him, then the donor has now benefited from a contribution that was supposed to be fully charitable.

Because attendance at your event involves a quid pro quo element (that is, the donors receive something of value in exchange for their donation), use of foundation or donor advised fund money to obtain this benefit would be considered to be self-dealing. If audited, they would be in hot water with the IRS.

And, no, smarty-pants: you can’t just split that event payment into the charitable and non-charitable portion, though that seems like a reasonable solution. Here’s a great long post from Patterson Belknap on why “bifurcated payments” are a no-go.

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Measure your #GivingTuesday success.

Giving Tuesday Analysis - blog post

#GivingTuesday is right around the corner. Are you set up to know what worked for you?

A lot of #GivingTuesday action happens online. What’s great about this is you have the opportunity to test out your messaging. What’s most successful at bringing people to your website? What’s most successful at not only bringing people to your website, but bringing people who give?

The easiest (and free!) way to do this is with Google Analytics. Using Google Analytics, you can track which sources drive the most traffic to your website, and ultimately to online giving.

  1. Learn how it works.

If you are new to Google Analytics (GA), do yourself a favor and take Google’s free online beginner analytics training. It’s fast, easy to understand and helpful.

  1. Be sure your website is set up.

Google Analytics tracks visitors to your website based on a unique tracking code that is embedded on your website. When you take the Google training, you’ll learn how this works.

If GA tracking is not already set up, then work with your web designer to get this set up properly, in advance of your campaigns. If you manage your own website with a content management system like Squarespace, Weebly or Wix, check with your vendor on how to inject Google’s tracking code on every page.

  1. Set your goal in Analytics.

On Giving Tuesday, your goal is to raise money. So your goal is to see a successful transaction. Because of the way GA works, your donor’s arrival at the final “thank you for giving” page will be the signal to Google that the goal has been met.

You may also have the goal of adding email addresses to your list. See this great #GivingTuesday contrarian post at Fundraising Authority on why that may be an even better social media goal than generating direct donations.

If you can, set up your online giving service to redirect people to a thank you landing page hosted on your website when their transaction or newsletter signup is complete. That way, the Google Analytics tracking code will be embedded in that page, and you can track not only who visits your online giving or newsletter page, but who successfully completes the desired action.

If you are unable to have donors land on a thank you page hosted on your own site, then your goal will have to be landing on your online giving page or newsletter signup page. Unfortunately, this will not give you a good sense of donor attrition during the giving or signup process, but it is better than not tracking at all.

Analytics can only track things that happen on your site. That’s why it’s important to embed the tracking code in your site, and to host as much of your online giving process as you can on your own site.

  1. Use Google’s URL Builder to make trackable links for each of your social media posts or ads.

By adding special coding to the end of web links that you share via social media, email, or advertising, you can track the performance of each specific post or email. The coding is called UTM coding. Here’s a fairly simple explanation of how it works, including why the U stands for urchin.

Google offers a URL Builder tool to make it easy to generate links that Google Analytics will be able to track. Note that your website page addresses don’t change. The UTM coding is added when you link to your site, and gets passed through to Google Analytics.


Your website’s donate page:

The link to your donate page in your newsletter:

  1. Test your setup before #GivingTuesday.

Make sure that everything is working as you expected before #GivingTuesday rolls around. Test every step of the process, and be sure that Google Analytics is recording data the way you want it to. The training I suggest above shows you how to do this.

  1. Review your stats.

At the conclusion of your campaign, look at your various posts, ads, and emails. Which performed the best?

Click Rate
You’ll get your click rate from Facebook, other social media sites, or your email application. Of those who saw your ads/posts/email, how many actually clicked on a link?

Conversion Rate
Your conversion rate is the percentage of people who arrive at your site who successfully complete the desired action, i.e. giving. If you use Google Analytics’ goal tracking function, it will automatically calculate your conversion rate for you.

Donor Attrition
Where did you see donor attrition in your funnel? If you saw a steep fall-off between arriving at your online giving form and completing the transaction, this is an indicator that your online giving process needs to be smoother so that you lose fewer donors.

Bounce Rate
The bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your page shortly upon arrival – those who didn’t like what they saw when they arrived. If one of your posts, ads, emails, etc. has a significantly higher bounce rate than others, then it was targeting the wrong crowd for you.


P.S. Don’t forget! Fundraising Nerd is conducting a short survey, Your Donor Database and You, to understand what you need to make your fundraising database work better. If you complete the survey before November 30, you’ll be entered to win a free softcover copy of my book Donor Database Fundamentals, to be released this spring. You’ll also get a report on survey results.


Analyze your ask success

slide rule

It’s asking season! Let’s talk about some ways to measure your solicitation success.

Last week I shared a few tips for year-end mailings, and promised this follow up post on analyzing your asks. These methods work no matter what method you use: direct mail, email, phone, in-person or a combination of all of the above.

Many databases will calculate some of these stats for you if you use your software’s appeal/solicitation tracking function. Generally, this is a two-step process:

  • Record who received each solicitation (often using your database’s mailing or reporting tool)
  • Record the corresponding appeal/solicitation code on the record of each gift you receive in response to your appeal

If you aren’t sure how to do this, check your database’s help materials and/or ask your vendor.

The Basics

Number of Donors
Count each household as one donor. That is, if you mailed to Pat and Jean as a couple, and they gave one gift, then count that as one donor.

Number of Gifts
If one or more donors give more than one gift in response to your solicitation, the number of gifts will be higher than the number of donors.

Response Rate
Number of donors ÷ Number of mail recipients

Average Gift Size
Total dollars received ÷ Total number of gifts received

Cost to Raise $1
Cost of mailing ÷ Dollars raised


You can look at two forms of acquisition: brand new donors who have never given to your organization before, and lapsed donors who are inspired to give again (reacquisition).

Acquisition Rate
Number of new donors ÷ Number of non-donors mailed

Cost to Acquire One Donor
Cost of mailing ÷ Number of donors acquired

Three Year Average Value of Donors Acquired
Cost to acquire a donor is only part of the story, particularly when it comes to acquisition mailings. Not all donors will give equally over time. Perhaps your cost to raise a dollar for a particular solicitation was high, yet ultimately, those donors give more on average than most of your other donors. This is a solicitation analysis best served cold, i.e. after a few years have elapsed.

Three year cumulative giving total by donors acquired ÷ Number of donors acquired


It’s common to segment retention into two groups: first time donors who give again, and everyone else. You may choose to include long-lapsed donors in your first time stats, your everyone else group, or even to break them out into a third group for analysis.

Retention Rate for New Donors
Number of donors who gave their first gift last year and gave again this year ÷ Total number of donors who gave their first gift last year

Retention Rate for Everyone Else
Number of donors who gave both this year and last year (excluding those whose first gift was last year) ÷ Total number of donors who gave last year (excluding those whose first gift was last year)

Multi-Channel Solicitation

It’s unlikely that you have complete postal addresses and email addresses for 100% of your constituents. (If you do, congratulations! If you don’t, you may want to check out this post on contact data appends.)

That’s why the best practice is to send your solicitations by both mail and email. The best, best practice is to create three unique segments:

  • Mail only – Be sure to ask for email on your reply device.
  • Email only – Replicate your mail-only message.
  • Mail + email – Change the content of your messaging so the two reinforce rather than repeat one another.

Once your solicitation response period has ended, you can analyze the three segments using the above measures, e.g. what was the average gift size of those who received mail only, compared to those who received both mail and email?

Keep in mind that your results may be reflective of donor affinity in addition to channel effectiveness. That is, if the data you have is donor-supplied (e.g. opted in to email list and provided mailing address when making a gift), then more data indicates more affinity. Thus, we might expect those who received both mail and email to have a higher response rate, both because they were asked twice, but also because they already had higher affinity for your organization at the outset.

A special note on multi-channel giving

It is increasingly common for donors to respond to postal mail by giving online. How do you account for this in your appeal tracking? If someone gives online (without being referred by one of your email campaigns), then go ahead and attribute their gift to your most recent solicitation, as long as it was within the last 60 days.

Keep in mind – appeal/solicitation tracking is about understanding what prompted the gift, rather than how the gift was transmitted to you. If an email prompts a donor to call you by phone to give via credit card, then the email should be credited as the solicitation/appeal that motivated that gift, even though they didn’t click the “Give Now” button in the email itself.


P.S. Fundraising Nerd finally has a Facebook page. Check it out!