The list of ways we connect with donors and the list of methods we use to raise funds for our missions is growing. With online channels like social media, email marketing, content marketing, and blogs, in addition to all the conventional fundraising tactics, the fundraiser's toolbox is growing and the tools in the toolbox are becoming more diverse.

However, with more options come more opportunities to follow the "shiny object" or the fundraising "flavor of the month.”  

There's no need to be wary of “shiny objects” or “flavors of the month,” but it is important to prove that new strategies and new tactics are effective at achieving our goals. Whether your strategies and tactics are brand new or conventional, the global goal of a fundraiser is to be a better fundraiser tomorrow than today. Achieving this goal can be the catalyst for growth and empower the development of our organizations, missions, and causes. 

Even with the diverse fundraising tools at your disposal, the most important tool in your fundraising toolbox isn't a particular form of email marketing, online fundraising, social media engagement, direct mail campaign, a special event format, or any other fundraising strategy or tactic. The most important tool in a fundraiser’s toolbox is performance measurement.

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Why Measurement Is Important

You may be thinking, “Wait, performance measurement doesn’t raise funds for my mission -- how can that be the most important tool?” 

Performance measurement is a framework that supplements all of your strategies and tactics. It's a framework and methodology you can apply to your fundraising efforts to increase fundraising results and achieve the goal of being a better fundraising tomorrow than you were today.  

I understand that some looked at the title of this post and were looking for a sure-fire, silver-bullet way to raise funds and engage donors. However, there are no “silver bullets.” That's why performance measurement is such an important tool.

With performance measurement you can:

  1. Determine whether or not your fundraising efforts were successful or unsuccessful.
  2. Prove why your fundraising efforts were successful or unsuccessful.
  3. Use evidence to justify improvements in fundraising strategies and tactics. 

Implement the Measurement Process

Performance measurement is a methodology that links your goals and strategies to measurable results of performance. Regardless of the strategies and tactics you choose, the performance measurement process remains the same. Performance measurement follows these five steps:

Step 1: Define Objectives

The first step in the measurement process is to define your objective. What do you hope to accomplish? Your objective sets a benchmark. The benchmark is a standard you can use to compare expected results with actual results. The objective you set is your “measuring stick.” Your objective makes measurement relevant.

Step 2: Identify Strategies and Tactics

Based on your defined objective, identify strategies and tactics you will use to achieve your objective. What methods will help you accomplish your objective? Your strategies and tactics will consist of a combination of tools in your toolbox. These may include email marketing, SEO, content marketing, special events, peer-to-peer campaigns, and direct mail campaigns, among others. Based on the outcomes of your measurement process, you will continuously modify your strategies and tactics to find the perfect formula for positive fundraising results.

Step 3: Track Performance Data

Defining your objectives and identifying strategies and tactics lay the groundwork for your measurement process. They are the preparatory steps in the process. The functional component of performance measurement is actually measuring performance. Based on your objective, identify metrics that prove achievement of your objective (or non-achievement).

In order to track these metrics, you need to capture, collect, and manage performance data. Data is at the core of performance measurement. Data gives you the proof you need to take the next steps in the measurement process. Metrics and the data that comprise those metrics may include social stats, website analytics, communication conversions, revenue growth rates, or other donor engagement measures. Whatever the type of metric, it should tie back to your objectives and show you whether you're achieving your goals.

Step 4: Evaluate Outcomes

As you accumulate performance data that correlates to your objective benchmarks, you have the information to evaluate the outcomes. These two components give you insight to analyze the performance of your strategies and tactics. Look for differences between your expected objective and actual measured performance. Is there a variance? Is the variance positive? Is the variance negative? Evaluate the outcome and uncover the truth behind the numbers.  

Step 5: Outline Next Steps  

Now you know the variance between expected and actual results. What did you learn? Can you improve your strategies and tactics? Outlining next steps should define ways you can improve your fundraising strategies and tactics for increased performance. Evaluating outcomes gives you the information needed to understand the truth behind your performance, so take this information and convert it to actionable knowledge. Take action to iteratively perfect your fundraising strategies, tactics, and formula.

Measurement can help you identify ways to improve fundraising performance by adding evidence to your decision making and using evidence to inform which actions to take. Performance measurement gives you "real" knowledge to develop a "smart" fundraising plan. The goal of performance measurement is to develop trends of positive performance. These positive trends are managed and facilitated by iterative improvements to your fundraising strategies and tactics. Enacting consistent performance improvements is what contributes to fundraising growth and organizational growth. And that's why performance measurement is the one tool in your fundraiser toolbox you can’t ignore.

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Originally published Feb 21, 2014 4:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


Nonprofit Fundraising