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August 15, 2020
When Assessing Fundraisers, Don't Forget Effort Expended
By Peggy Mathews

Peggy Mathews
When evaluating the success of your past fundraisers and planning your 2011 efforts, measure the effort expended as well as dollars raised to ensure that they are efficiently meeting monetary and other organizational goals.

Income is not the only measure of a fundraiser’s success—and sometimes, it may not be the most important measure. The best efforts also help build the organization by bringing in new donors, volunteers, or members. They also make excellent use of volunteers by connecting them to the organization in a way that neither cuts them adrift nor swallows up staff time.

Yet, too often, organizations cling to an inefficient and unproductive fundraiser because it’s a long-held tradition or because a few prominent people are strongly attached to the event. But with dollars and staff time in short supply, it’s all the more important to continue only the strategies that get the most bang—donations, members, volunteers—for the buck.

By creating a Fundraising Analysis Chart, your organization can create objective measurements and avoid a standoff between board members wedded to worn-out special events and staff eager to jettison a time-consuming fundraiser that yields little net revenue.

When measured in terms of revenue gained, staff time invested, volunteers engaged, and new donors or members gained, it will become very clear to the board of directors which fundraisers should be kept and developed further and which should be dropped.

To build the chart, make seven columns with the following headings starting from left to right:
  1. Name of fundraiser
  2. Net revenue
  3. Staff time (total hours)
  4. $ raised per hour of time spent
  5. % of total staff fundraising hours
  6. Number of volunteers involved
  7. New donors acquired
Next, create a row for each fundraiser held last year (e.g., annual appeal, membership drive, board chair’s house party, auction, ad booklet, benefit concert, wine-tasting, etc.) and list those in column 1.

After inserting the name of each fundraiser into the first column, begin to fill in the rest of the columns:

Column 2 Enter the net (profit) for each fundraiser. It’s important to look at the net rather than the gross. While some fundraisers may bring in lots of money, they can also cost lots of money and leave you with little or no profit. To figure out your net, subtract the fundraising expenses from the total raised (gross).

Column 3 Enter the number of hours that staff spent on the fundraiser in terms of planning and preparation, logistics, implementation, and follow-up. Remember to include meetings, phone calls, and emails. If you haven’t tracked the staff time that went into the fundraiser, put an estimate in this column. (In the future, keep track of the time each staff person spends on each fundraising strategy.)

Column 4 Enter the dollars raised for each staff hour worked. To get this number, divide the net (column 2) by the total staff hours (column 3). You’ll begin to see which efforts are more efficient than others. Some might bring in $50/hour or $30/hour, while others bring in $1/hour or even worse. In the latter case, it would be very hard to justify holding that fundraiser again, even if it garners good visibility or brings in new volunteers.

Column 5 Enter the percentage of the staff’s fundraising time that each fundraiser required. To do this, divide the number of staff hours spent on the specific fundraiser by the total staff hours spent on all the fundraisers (total of column 3). Some efforts may take 10% of total staff fundraising hours, some may take 40%.

If one fundraiser is taking up a large portion of staff time, yet has a low efficiency factor (column 4) compared to other revenue-generation efforts, you’ll want to drop that loser. Likewise, if an effort has a high fundraising efficiency factor yet takes a small portion of the overall staff fundraising time, you’ve got a gem you’ll want to keep.

Column 6 Enter the number of volunteers involved in each of your fundraisers. Then look at column 5 figures showing the portion of staff fundraising time that each effort required. Ideally, those efforts that involve more volunteers should require a smaller portion of staff fundraising time, especially if volunteers play a leadership role in the fundraiser.

Column 7 Enter the number of new donors acquired through the most recent version (i.e., 2010) of each specific fundraiser. (To look more deeply at its effect on donors, create another column listing the number of people who donated through this event in the past but did not respond this year.)

It is important to factor in other organization-building goals in addition to dollars raised. For example, a specific event may not bring in large dollar amounts but may yield many new volunteers or members. In that case, label that effort as membership recruitment or volunteer recruitment to remove the expectation that it will raise significant funds. Then, shift responsibility for this recruitment effort to a more appropriate staff person or board committee.

The ideal, of course, would be to keep only those efforts that raise dollars and meet other goals.

Once you’ve created your Fundraising Analysis Chart, share it with the board’s fundraising committee and key staff, and let the numbers speak for themselves. Make sure the board takes these measurements into account before mapping this year’s fundraising plan.

Peggy Mathews is a consultant specializing in fundraising and nonprofit organizational management. She can be reached at or 423-562-8189.

January 2011
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