3 Ways to Use Stats for Good

This week the internet is awash in news about the latest number from Giving USA and the record amount given to charity.

But if you are the more typical fundraiser, wearing several hats and trying to eke out enough donated income to meet your budget, you may glance at all this coverage and say, “So what?” After all, while it’s great that $373 billion was donated to charities in the U.S. in 2015, what relevance does that have to you and your budget that is considerably less than that unfathomable sum? Of all the things you need to worry about this week, why would this even make it onto your radar—not to mention the constant deluge of reports covering seemingly all aspects of charitable activity?

But these kinds of reports really can help you become a better fundraiser. Here are three ways to use the data from a report, like Giving USA, or any other statistics on giving and charitable trends for the good of your work.

1. View these statistics as an overview of what you should be measuring. While you may not be able to go as in-depth as professional researchers and statisticians do, knowing the basic health of your donor file matters—because if you are oblivious, your entire program could be dying while you are sitting in a meeting listening to people debate what color balloons to use at the gala.

Giving USA reminds us about the importance of looking at our own annual income and how it compares to prior years. Are there trends that should frighten us? If income is increasing, can we pinpoint why—and then do more of that successful activity? What is the makeup of donors to our organization? Are we too dependent on a few foundations or major donors—so much ask that if one declined, we would not know what other sources to look to? Other research, like the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, reminds us of the importance of watching our retention and acquisition rates.

Remember the old saying about Nero fiddling while Rome burned? Reports, like Giving USA, help us focus on what matters, not just on what is screaming for attention.

2. Compare your fundraising income trends to uncover opportunities you might be overlooking. In 2015, giving in the U.S. increased 4 percent; how did your income change last year compare to the prior year? Look at the increase or decrease in your sector (i.e., human services, religion). How did you match up?Once you know how you are doing compared to national numbers, consider strategies to address significant negative discrepancies. Also, pay attention to non-replicable events and never budget for them to repeat!

For example, Giving USA estimated that giving to international affairs organizations rose more than 17 percent, but this is attributed in large measure to the Nepal earthquake, Syrian-refugee crisis and other high humanitarian crises. When reviewing your numbers, pull out anything that was a result of something outside your control—be that a positive event or a tragedy.

Another potentially overlooked opportunity is bequest marketing. Giving USA reported that 9 percent of all giving in 2015 was through bequests, and other research shows thatbequests make up about 95 percent of all planned giving. If you aren’t promoting bequests with your donors, you are missing a great opportunity to focus on the future of the organization even if you aren’t around to see the “harvest.”

3. Use these statistics to set goals to improve your fundraising efforts. How are you measuring up in terms of the total giving in the nation? If you find that your corporate giving, for example, is weak, set a goal to address that. If your online giving is not measuring up to recent reporting on that, set a goal to improve the online giving experience for your donors and make sure you are promoting online giving on every platform.

Giving USA estimated that 88 percent of all giving comes from individuals—via outright gifts, bequests and individual-directed foundation giving (i.e., family foundations). Are you linking a family foundation that donates to the individual donor record so you are correctly talking to the donor? Or is there a risk that a donor will get a mailing that references being lapsed when they actually are giving through a recently established family foundation or donor-advised fund?

Your takeaway from Giving USA and the myriad of other reports that cover the fundraising world? This old dog urges you to consider each one an opportunity to tighten your strategies, jump on top of negative trends before they become emergencies and focus your limited time on what really matters.

That’s using statistics for good!

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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