Analyze your ask success

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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!