Plot Your Course for 2013 Leadership and Major Gift Success

Published by Karen Osborne on

By now, you have crunched your year-end numbers from leadership annual and major gifts and know exactly where you landed in 2012.  What worked, and what didn’t work.  For too many of us, we track progress against goals and compare last year to this year as the ways to measure our fundraising health.  Here are five fundamental metrics we should all measure and use for decision making.  They unlock potential and show us the path to success.

1) Retention rates.  We’ve all heard this before so why aren’t we doing the RIGHT things about it.  First time donors are the most vulnerable.  One study I read, said we actually lose our first time donors between one day and six months after they make the gift.  What are your retention rates for new donors, especially leadership annual/regular/monthly donors?  Are you losing more than 60%?  40%? Holding on to new donors has a huge effect on the bottom line.

We need to also know our retention rates for those donors giving for two to four years. Are you achieving 65% or higher?

Our most loyal donors, those who give for five years or more, will probably stay for life, or at least 85% of them will.  So, getting donors to that point is critical. How are you doing?

2) Upgrade rates for leadership annual or regular donors (1,000 to 10,000 or 25,000 perhaps). Everyone donor can’t increase every year. But what percentages of your donors do?  Is it improving steadily?  It is easier to inspire old friends to do more, than to acquire new friends.  In fact, some studies suggest 7 to 11 times easier.

3) Yes rates especially for leadership annual/regular donors and major gift donors.  What percentage of the people, corporates, and foundations you solicited said yes (hopefully a joyful and generous yes)? What percentage of the request did they commit to? For example, did you request 25,000 and receive 20,000 or 5,000?  Which solicitation method worked best? Tracking yes rates gives us deep insight into how well we are doing.



4) Donor base health.  How many rated potential donors at each giving level do you need to achieve your goal for the remainder of your fiscal year or for 2013 and how many have you identified, researched, had a discovery visit, engaged, solicited, stewarded? Remember, best practice calls for 3 or 4 potential donors for each gift you need to close.



5) Projection accuracy.  This one often gets gift officers anxious.  I get it.  But within this metric is a wealth of helpful information.  For all of the donors under portfolio management (the donor or potential donor is assigned to a gift officer), projections should exist.  I prefer High, Low, Likely.  What is the best result I can hope for; what is the worst case scenario; and what is most likely? One can only make these projections based on personal knowledge of the donor (not researched on the internet, but researched during a visit).


Certainly, there are many other metrics that powers our decision-making, but these are five are powerful.  The goal is to know our numbers; look for strengths and capitalize on them.  Uncover weaknesses and dig for opportunities.

Perhaps you have a swelling of donors at 1,000 and then the numbers get thin up to 10k where there is another swelling albeit smaller.  You look at your yes rates and they are poor at 2.5k and 5k.  You check on how most were solicited for that amount and the quality of stewardship they received and find most were called by volunteers and only received a thank you note (and not an impact report or contact months after the gift was received).  A strategy is born.

  • Increase (or provide for the first time) stewardship for 1,000 donors – here is the difference your investment made.
  • Solicit in-person more 1,000 (seeking an increase), 2.5k and 5k donors.
  • Provide volunteers with a bit more (or first time) training, and
  • Revamp the case for increasing at those levels.

Don’t you just love metrics driven decision-making! They provide your program with focus and allow you to put your resources towards high impact initiatives.

What metrics do you track?

Karen Osborne

Internationally recognized as an expert consultant and excellent presenter, Karen receives invitations from all over the United States and the world to make presentations and consult with NGOs, universities, justice, social service, and health organizations. The Council for Support and Advancement of Education (CASE) awarded Karen the Crystal Apple for outstanding teaching and Ashmore Award for Outstanding Service to the Profession. Published and often quoted in industry books, newspapers and magazines, Karen serves on the board of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and teaches a graduate course on philanthropy for Johns Hopkins University.


Jessica Green · January 29, 2013 at 01:32

Great post! The metric I was most excited about in 2012 was our number of donors who upgraded, not just our major donors but across the board. We tried out a few new donor communication strategies that seemed to work!

Siobhan Aspinall · April 9, 2013 at 18:12

This is excellent Karen – I’m showing it to my boss later today! : )

[Headlines] How Big Should Your Nonprofit Board Be? | · February 5, 2013 at 23:04

[…] against goals and compare last year to this year as the ways to measure our fundraising health. Here are 5 fundamental metrics we should all measure and use for decision […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *