Year-End Campaign Analysis: Learning what we need to know.

What did we learn?Congratulations on getting your year-end appeal out the door, your website content refreshed and on-message, your landing pages and online giving forms branded and optimized—success is assured! But do you know what “success” looks like for your campaign?

The bottom-line measure of campaign success is the amount of money raised, but this measure alone doesn’t adequately reflect fundraising performance. For example, an organization that raised the same amount in 2009 as it did in 2008 could argue success in light of an 11% drop in funding across the sector; just as an organization that increased year-end fundraising by 5% in 2011 could be in an alarming decline if this increase was accompanied by a net loss of donors through attrition.

Moving beyond “Dollars Raised” to a more comprehensive analysis of year-end campaign success can greatly improve (and simplify) decision making next year, and ensure sustainable gains and continuous improvement year-over-year.  “Without a standard, there is no logical basis for making a decision or taking action,” said Joseph Juran, a grandfather of quality management, so this year, deliberately collect performance information to set baselines, specify goals, measure performance, and raise more money in 2015.

Few nonprofits have the staff time and resources available to deeply analyze—and more importantly—to implement and manage changes in all aspects of a year-end campaign’s performance.  Here are some tips for creating a focused year-end campaign analysis that will help target next year’s goals:

1.       Use this year’s campaign to establish baseline measurements. “What gets measured gets done,” so select baseline measurements that leverage your organizational fundraising strengths and any inherent opportunities for increasing donations. Also, survey with a critical eye the aspects of this year’s campaign performance that were weak or in decline. For example, an older, established non-profit organization might have a loyal and dedicated membership. A way to optimize this strength is to use the year-end campaign to increase planned giving engagements with long-time donors. A weakness that needs shored up might be the lack-luster growth of new membership and a shrinking donor file.

Reasonable baseline measurements for this sample organization could be:

a.       The number of planned gift engagements that occur as a result of the appeal

b.      The number of new donors responding to the appeal

 It becomes quickly apparent how establishing measurements will affect the next campaign’s overall messaging, design, list segmentation, and definition of success. Setting baseline measurements will also likely raise other interesting questions such as, what constitutes a planned gift engagement—a meeting, an inquiry, or a signed intention form? How are these engagements tied to an appeal? Or, should we differentiate between a new donor who has been in our file for several years, and a new donor who came to us through the appeal? Do new donors have a markedly different retention rate, and can we affect it? These questions are the seeds of effective tactical planning!

2.       Set Goals for the next year. Start with the Total Amount Raised goal. This can be an unpublished, internal goal; it can be a budget-driven figure, or it can be calculated as a percentage increase based on a multi-year trend. You can adjust it later, but it’s mission-critical to Set This Goal. And however you get to it, make sure it’s defensible, challenging, and attainable.  Now, based on your organizational strengths (to optimize) and weaknesses (to shore-up), identify strategies for reaching the Total Amount Raised, and set performance goals for important indicators.  For example:

a.       Add a sub-category to the Response Rate analysis to track response specific to the planned gift enclosures and set a goal of a 5% response rate from the segment that receives this package.

b.      Add a goal of 200 New Donors Acquired to the retention analysis that currently only tracks the percentage of renewing donors.

 3.       Stay the course. Once you have identified your goals, make them priorities and focus on achieving them. These goals will become the guiding lights in your your tactical decision-making. For transformation goals, new initiatives, or when campaign goals reflect overall strategic fundraising goals, consider applying a three-year timeline to completion; and develop a road map with many, smaller benchmarks along the way.

4.       Analyze performance and implement findings. Commit to a data-centric decision-making process. This is easier said than done, especially in organizations with founder-directors or strong traditions, but there is no point in measuring and analyzing performance if the resulting recommendations will never be put into practice. A successful shift from “legacy” to “data” mindsets may require a paced transition that entails choosing incremental changes, supported by data collected and analyzed over time, and presented with outcome-based recommendations.  One juicy benefit of setting next year’s goals and performance measures on the heels of this year’s campaign is that it gives you time to engage the thinking of leadership and your entire team in the tactics and systems that will make both execution and analysis more efficient—and ultimately—help you achieve fundraising success.

To read about basic campaign analysis, enhanced analysis based on organizational priorities, and to download a sample year-end campaign analysis spreadsheet, visit at Enhanced Campaign Analysis: What did we learn.