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How to Assess What’s Working in Your Fundraising Program—and What’s Not

Lisa Tarshis
September 9, 2021

If you’re like many of the fundraising professionals I meet, you’re likely wearing many hats and have a never ending task list. You’re constantly moving from one thing to the next. 

With so much urgent need, it can feel impossible to slow down and assess what’s working and what isn’t. After all, if we decide something isn’t working we then have to come up with a plan to fix it - and who has time for that when there’s always more work to do?   

What if I told you that through assessing your fundraising program you can find more time and freedom? Hear me out… when we don’t take time to assess what’s working and what’s not, we continue to pour energy into activities that might not be worth it. We continue to do more rather than giving ourselves an opportunity to raise more by doing less. If you’re ready to finally jump off the hamster wheel and focus on the activities that will give you the greatest return, then it’s time to prioritize assessing what’s working and what’s not.  

Not sure where to start? Here are five suggestions:  

1.     Don’t skip the debrief. At the end of every appeal or event, schedule time with the team to discuss what worked, opportunities for the future, changes you would make, and any notes you want to remember for next year. Make sure to plan this meeting shortly after the event or appeal has concluded so the info is fresh in your minds. 

2.     Look at your database. Now is the time to pull those big-picture reports: how are your donor retention rates? Do you have a functional donor pyramid? Are you successful in moving donors through your pipeline? What trends are you noticing in your data? Who has stopped giving in the last couple years—have you investigated why? In what area of giving do you have the most room to grow? Your database is one of the best places to look for answers and determine what’s working and what isn’t.

3.     Ask your donors. Schedule time to call some of your key stakeholders specifically for feedback. These should be short, candid conversations about what has been effective and what hasn’t during the time they’ve supported your organization. You can also create a brief donor survey asking how folks would like to be communicated with and what kind of updates they prefer. It’s a win-win: you’ll receive useful feedback that will better your strategy, and your donors will feel valued and like they’re truly a part of your team.  

4.     Know your team’s strengths and build on them. If Giving Tuesday hasn’t been working for you, don’t waste team resources on it. Instead, put that time and energy into improving a campaign that’s already a big success.  

5.     Understand your organization’s long-term goals. Are you doing work that builds the foundation toward those goals? For example, if you’re hoping to launch a capital campaign in the near future, are you cultivating and stewarding donors so that they will be ready to join you in that effort? 

You may be thinking that this sounds like a lot. I get it. The truth is, there’s no pressure to do all of this at once. Start with your next activity, appeal or event or start by checking just one of these items off your list. We promise, the time you spend now will pay off in the long run.  

If you’re ready to pull back the curtain and assess your fundraising program, check out our latest freebie, 9 Questions to Ask Your Team at the End of a Fundraising Activity, Event or Appeal.