Have you ever set out to bake something without knowing what you’re making? If you’re using a recipe for chocolate cake but you’re hoping for fancy cannolis, you might find yourself very disappointed (ok, maybe not that disappointed, but you get the point!).
It may sound ridiculous, but too many nonprofits take precisely that approach to their data—which is equally ridiculous. For example, have you ever been asked to provide a fundraising report without any guidance on what to include? To achieve the desired final data and analysis, we must do as leadership author Stephen Covey suggested: “begin with the end in mind.”
Guidelines to Become Data-Driven
When it comes to development at your organization, how do you decide what information to track? What data does the success of your efforts hinge upon?
To answer these questions, we reverse engineer the response. Beginning with the end in mind, we ask ourselves the following questions:
1. What metrics best measure your fundraising success?
At the end of the fiscal year, how will the board know if the organization has reached its fundraising goals? Normally described in annual strategic or operational plans as “SMART” goals, these targets align with the strategic plan and reflect the unique situation of the organization. This could include development goals by funding source (e.g., individual giving, major gifts, planned gifts, event sponsorships, and grants) or response rates to specific tactics (i.e., appeals, event asks, and face-to-face solicitations). What metrics make sense for your organization?
2. What information do your leaders need to make important development decisions?
In addition to fundraising outcomes, an organization’s leaders may need information to evaluate the success of development tactics along the way. First, look to your existing development reports or development committee meeting minutes. Do these reports meet your needs? Are there other questions about your donors or donations that you’d like to answer? This is highly customized for each organization. Some folks may like to monitor inputs (i.e., development activities like the number of major donor meetings, the size of various donor segments for the direct mail piece, etc.). Others are interested in donor behavior with respect to retention or response rates. These are only examples, and not every metric is appropriate for every organization. Decide what’s important to YOUR organization.
3. Can your organization track and gather the needed data?
Finally, with the end result in mind, you can look for a relevant “recipe” and plan how to obtain the ingredients on a regular basis. Do you have the data available to report progress on the identified metrics? If not, how could you get it? This approach ensures access to the information needed to report progress appropriately and consistently.
Starting with the end in mind is a key step to unlocking the sweet potential of your data and using it to create meaningful outcomes for your organization.
For more detailed support around executive reporting, check out the guide we recently published with Foundant Technologies: Development Reporting 101.
How does your organization align decision-making with its strategic plan?
What executive reporting does the organization want to provide its staff leadership and board?