Picture this: your general manager asks for a meeting. They’ve just seen a report that says revenue per donor is going down, and they want you to explain why the nonprofit is losing money. But you’re not losing money — your recurring giving program is growing, which is making the revenue per donor dip. What looks like a loss on paper is actually a win because recurring donors have a higher lifetime value.

One piece of data taken alone doesn’t tell the whole story. To truly understand the health of your organization, there are seven key metrics you should track in your database:

  1. Year-on-year revenue
  2. Donor file growth
  3. Donor retention
  4. Gifts per donor
  5. Average gift
  6. Revenue per donor
  7. Cost to acquire

Data can be overwhelming. It can be hard to identify what’s meaningful versus what’s just interesting. Giving level, engagement, online performance — you can track virtually everything your organization does. But the engagement level of your social media ad campaign doesn’t say much about your donor file.

These seven data points will give you a clear, high-level look at your organization’s fundraising efforts. So, the next time your CEO wants a report, you’ll be armed with relevant metrics that paint a fuller picture.

Common questions about data

All fundraisers should have access to the seven key metrics through your customer relationship management (CRM) software. But knowing what to look at is just the start. Let’s look at some common questions we often get regarding data.

How often should I look at these metrics?

Many CRMs have a data dashboard front and center so fundraisers can easily check progress every day. A daily look isn’t necessary, though. Instead, aim to explore your data at least once a quarter. If you can run a report each month, even better.

You need to be able to see patterns in your data so you can catch any problems early. Of course, some trends take longer to emerge, like your retention rate or average gift size.

Whatever timeline you choose, be consistent. Your goal should be to see month by month or quarter by quarter, and then compare those periods to previous years.

How do you account for seasonality in data?

Some points in the year bring more acquisition, while others bring more revenue. But in general, each year should follow the same cycle. That’s why looking at all your data from a “same time last year” perspective is important.

A decrease in the number of gifts per donor for January 2024 isn’t a pattern; you must compare it to previous Januarys, say over a five-year period. You’ll know you must act if you have a decrease or flat line.

Say you’re coming to the end of your fiscal year. Compare the number of new donors you have now with the number you had in this same period last year. Then, use that data to forecast where you’ll likely end the year and plan out your final giving campaign.

What metrics are important when viewing campaign results?

Many fundraisers will count the number of gifts, the amount of revenue from a campaign, and nothing more. But these two metrics don’t give you enough information to learn from the campaign and be able to make changes for the next one.

Break your campaign results down by audience. For instance, how did your lapsed donors respond compared to your current donors and prospects? Look at metrics like response rate, average gift, and revenue per thousand. These insights will enable you to tweak your next campaign to be more relevant for each audience.

What metrics matter most for future planning?

Whether you’re planning for the rest of 2024 or a new fiscal year, start with this question: Is your donor base growing or shrinking? Then, go one level deeper to look at trends.

Is it growing because there are more new donors than ever?

Is it growing because you’ve added more sustainers?

Is it shrinking because you haven’t been focusing on acquisition?

Look at overall revenue trends as well. Is overall revenue growing or shrinking? What about the revenue per donor?

These metrics are essential to understand as you build your budget and plan. Then, develop an action plan and figure out what tactics you need to use. See what momentum you can use or where you might need an intervention to turn things around.

What metric gives the best snapshot of the overall donor relationship?

Of the seven key metrics to track, the one that stands out as a litmus test for donor relationships is the donor retention rate. If your retention rate is dropping — whether you’re comparing months, quarters, or years — it’s a sign that a relationship need isn’t being met. Maybe you’re not talking to them in the right way, or perhaps you’re not thanking them enough.

Look at your overall retention rate but also the rate for different donor segments and giving levels. Are you in line with benchmarks and averages, or are you falling short?

Bottom line: if you’re not retaining donors, then little else matters. It can be a proxy for other metrics, like engagement and overall revenue per donor. If retention is steady or growing, you can be confident that your donors are invested in your organization.

Tell the full story with the right data

Fundraisers have access to an abundance of data and navigating it can be tricky. One or two metrics can raise more questions than answers. But taken together, the seven key data points enable you to give your manager, CEO, or board a comprehensive look at your fundraising health.

Our Allegiance Group + Pursuant team has various tools to help you collect, identify, and analyze meaningful and relevant data. Contact us today to learn more about how we can use our expertise to your advantage.

This article is based on an episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast. Listen to the full episode of 7 Database KPIs to Understand Donor Loyalty

Overwhelmed by your data?