Routine Screening of Your Fundraising Program

Lessons from an outpatient.

Earlier this week, I had a “routing medical screening.” No big deal — just an opportunity to make sure everything is still operating the way it should and no unwanted things have snuck in while I wasn’t paying attention.
That reminded me of the importance of the occasional screenings we need to do on our fundraising programs. Keeping our eye on how things are working can help avoid the need for “surgery” later on that could be far more painful. So here are a few tips for maintaining good fundraising health.

Set aside the time
It’s easy to be so caught up in the day-to-day details that we forget to step back and look over the big picture. Setting aside enough time to look beyond the immediate is essential.

Yes, looking constantly at income for different activities is of paramount importance. But so is looking at things less obvious like number of gifts per donor per year, attrition, average gift, lapsed recovery, recovered donor retention, second-gift renewal of new donors and much more.

Invest solid blocks of time on a regular basis to look at the overall health of your program. Then ask, “Why?” Why is this happening? Why isn’t that happening?

Know what to look for
As part of your “health screening,” look especially at the trends. When something is getting worse year over year, that’s a red flag. What needs to be fixed? What strategies should you test to work toward improvement?

When something is staying level, is there an option for improving it? What are the tweaks you could test that might get the fundraising effort back on a growth trajectory? And when something is improving, are there learnings that you can apply to other efforts?

Poke deeper from time to time, looking for the less obvious
On occasion, it’s important to step back and ask yourself what you are missing. Is there a fundraising tool that makes sense for your nonprofit that you haven’t tested? Is there something you are doing that has outlived itself?

Pamela consults with nonprofits in the United States and internationally, helping them develop their fundraising strategy and writing copy to achieve their goals. Additionally she teaches fundraising at two universities, hoping to inspire the next generation of fundraisers to be passionate about the profession. Previously, Pamela led the fundraising programs for nonprofit organizations, getting hands-on experience in everything from direct mail to DRTV, and major gift solicitation to event management. Pamela is a CFRE, a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and Dominican University, and has a Doctorate in Business Administration from California Southern University. Contact Pamela at or follow her on Twitter at @pjbarden.

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