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Thursday, February 25, 2021
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The last few months of the year are usually nail-biting time for many industries, especially for merchants and retailers who bank on major earnings in the fleeting months of the year. This also holds true for the fundraising world.

It is said that as much as 70-80% of a nonprofits’ fundraising dollars come in during this period, but largely if a major effort is made to secure these funds. So at this time in nonprofits across the country, plenty of blood, sweat and tears are shed raising crucial funds.

This is how it works: Nonprofits make their best case for support following a year in which they can show positive results. Sharing warm stories that “tug at the heartstrings” is one way to touch contributors. Another is to share quantifiable measures of success. The question is how to bring these “cold numbers” to life—give them color, excitement and a patina to which folks can relate.

I once traveled to Los Angeles and met two upwardly mobile professionals who were stars in the hedge fund world. Both were polite and accommodating with their time. But they weren’t interested in heartwarming stories. They only wanted to see the organization’s budget, metrics and the “bottom line.” Their minds were made up by the time I met them. But, no contribution would be forthcoming until they saw our annual report and the “numbers.”

Another time, I met with a potential guest of honor for a gala. Her significant philanthropy was well known among her pet charities amid which we were counted. She hosted my visit in her penthouse and I even recall the aroma of the jasmine tea she served. She sat on many boards that welcomed her input as well as her generosity. But what was impressive was her avid interest in our fundraising efforts. She wanted to learn about our variety of donor giving alternatives because it spoke to her concerns about the need to offer diverse forms of donor involvement. She asked for the totals and percentages of charitable giving through major gifts, annual fund giving, private family foundations and trusts, major event support, restricted campaign funding, planned gifts such as bequests, and grassroots support. I reviewed quantifiable measures which were the basis of her decision to be our guest of honor.

The lesson I learned is that lay leaders, board members and professionals need to divide their attention between human interest stories and metrics. This is the trend of the future, and the future is now. Certainly, millennials are more focused on budget deficits and units of measurement than previous donors. The enlightened nonprofit will understand the necessity to share this information because for some philanthropists, “it’s all about the numbers.”

Walking into a solicitation meeting at this time of the year armed with the right facts can dramatically influence donors. Look at it this way, these statistics represent your report card. You are basically sharing your productivity and effectiveness. Also, having an annual report that shows graphs and charts illustrating an institution’s fiscal health goes a long way with some supporters. Obviously, every charitable organization is different, but there are similarities in presentation that all charities share.

Let’s distinguish between the kind of metrics that donors need and the nonprofit needs to measure success.

As a contributor I want to see statistical data over time that show growth and expansion or decline and contraction. For example, if it’s a school, donors are interested in learning trends over time: how many students matriculated; how many achieved job skills that lead to quality job opportunities; the number of students that went on to higher education; how many children you serve by grade level and so forth. These are only some examples of measures that donors rank to determine your stages of success.

As a nonprofit I want to know how many donors are in the database, how many new donors were acquired, how many donors were retained over time, how many lapsed donors were reactivated to give, how many donors upgraded their level of giving and how much you think certain donors will give over their lifetime. These are only some examples of metrics the nonprofit needs to ascertain its rate of success.

The metrics you choose may make the difference between success or failure. Go figure!


Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]

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