How to Empower Your Nonprofit Fundraising Strategies with the Wonderful World of Data

By Heather Yandow, Third Space Studio

I get these kinds of question all the time: “How much money should I be raising from individual donors?” or “Do you think I can raise $50,000 from individuals next year?”


Those are hard questions with many answers that depend on many factors.

To make answering those types of questions a little easier to answer, I started working to create a set of metrics for small and mighty organizations – those with revenues under $2 million. Over the past three years, this data has helped draw a picture of individual donor fundraising.

This year’s report can be found here.

This work has also shined a light on the data practices of small nonprofits. Many struggle to find the time to collect and use their data. It’s easy to see how collecting fundraising data can help improve your fundraising program, but sometimes it is hard to make collecting and using data a priority in an already full day.

Here are three tips to help make it easier for you to explore the wonderful world of data:

1. Start small. Don’t think you need to collect ALL THE DATA. If you’ve read the report, you may be a little overwhelmed by the kinds of data you could be collecting. If you are new to the data game, start with tracking just a few key metrics like number of donors, number of new donors, and average gift. Also consider the reports built into your database. (You are using a database, right?)

2. Get the most juice for your squeeze, the most bang for your buck or, to be more formal, maximize your return on investment. Figure out what data has the most impact on your fundraising program and start there. Are you struggling with keeping donors year after year? Take a closer look at your retention rate by type of donors (volunteers, activists, major donors) or by channel (online, direct mail, events). Are you considering moving from direct mail to online only? Try an experiment with a subset of your donors and track the results. Click here to download a simple worksheet to design and track your experiments.

3. Make it easy for Future You. Whatever data you collect, be sure to write down how you found it. A year from now, you may not remember if lapsed members meant someone hadn’t given in one year or two – or if you counted people who bought tickets to your special event as donors. Be sure to capture those distinctions, including how you tricked your database into giving you the data you wanted, in a safe place so that Future You can calculate the data in the same way next time around.

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Heather Yandow is a data nerd and consultant with Third Space Studio. She can be reached at [email protected]