How to Know If You'll Be Successful
In these columns I address real-life obstacles and challenges that nonprofits face in creating sustainable funding to deliver their missions and achieve their goals. Readers write via email to receive quick consultations and perhaps have their particular problems addressed in future articles.
Recently, the membership/development director of a nonprofit professional association emailed me of her concern that her current efforts may not be sufficient to meet the financial goals handed to her. She wanted to know what else she could do and how to garner the support of her leadership along the way.
Two issues are at play here:
- Knowing your real chances of meeting a goal
- Communicating that probability to your leadership and enlisting its support in achieving ultimate success
Although fundraising is part art and part science and the outcomes of any given fundraising effort cannot be known with absolute certainty, assessing the probability of success isn't entirely guesswork, either.
When constructing a fundraising plan — and you should definitely have a plan — you can often use data you already possess to determine your relative chances of success.
Donor-conversion rates, gift-renewal rates and upgrade rates are, most likely, readily at hand. If they're not, taking the raw gift data from past efforts and doing a few quick calculations will give you what you need.
Let's say your history with a particular outreach vehicle is a 20 percent conversion rate. You have 500 potential new donors, and your mean first-time gift is $50. When the goal you've been given by your executive or governing board is $10,000, using what you already know will immediately tell you that such a figure is just not reachable. The capacity of the system described is about $5,000, give or take a few dollars.
Now comes the hard part: communicating to your leadership that the goal is just not doable given the capacity of your fundraising program — no matter how "critical" the funds are to your organization's success. Many fundraising goals are set from a needs perspective rather than a capacity perspective. Therein lies the inherent conflict between wishful thinking and reality.