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How to Set — and Achieve — Your Annual Fundraising Goals

Your annual fund is the fuel that powers your nonprofit’s mission. Year after year, the unrestricted and budget-relieving dollars you raise enable your organization to fulfill its promise to your constituents.

When it’s time to set your annual fundraising goal, it’s important to strike the right balance between a target that’s aspirational and one that’s attainable. You’ll need to dig into your data — and understand the trends that lie within — to arrive at a number that’s realistic and motivating.

Setting your goal is only half the battle. You also need to rally your team around an actionable fundraising plan. This involves spelling out exactly what you aim to achieve and assigning responsibility for each subgoal and task along the way.

Fundraising can often feel more like an art than a science — but it doesn’t have to be a mystery. We can help you lean into the data-driven methodologies that will drive your organization forward.

Here’s how to set — and reach — the annual fundraising goals your nonprofit is counting on.

Analyze Your Quantitative and Qualitative Giving Data

Some organizations set their fundraising goal based on the gap between their costs, their cash on hand, and other sources of revenue (“Our goal is $1 million because we need a million dollars”). Others simply increase their goal by a certain percentage over the amount they raised the previous year (“Last year plus 10%”). These approaches could lead you to set a target that’s too aggressive on the one hand — or too conservative on the other.

Remove the guesswork by analyzing your data. Factor in the following quantitative and qualitative inputs to ensure your goals are attainable and growth-oriented.

Historic Giving Data

To predict where you’re going, you need to look at where you’ve been. Examining the results of your past fundraising efforts will help you forecast accurately and identify the patterns and trends that will illuminate areas of opportunity.

Start by looking at your results over the last five years. To calculate your growth rate, calculate the following measures and break them down by donor type (e.g. individuals, corporations, foundations) and gift source (e.g. direct mail, online gift, middle giving, crowdfunding, event sponsorships):

  • Total dollars raised per fiscal year
  • Number of donors per fiscal year
  • Average gift amount
  • Total fundraising expenses, including salaries
  • Overall return on investment (ROI), including salaries
  • Cost to raise a dollar (CTRD), including salaries

Compare the measures within each channel year over year. This is your growth rate. This baseline will help you set realistic and achievable goals.

Annual Giving Growth Rate Worksheet

Is your annual fund in a healthy state of long-term growth? Use this worksheet to find out.

Giving Patterns and Trends

Once you’ve analyzed historical data by donor type and gift source, it’s time to dig deeper to figure out exactly what the numbers are telling you. Ask yourself:

  • What strategies did we use to raise funds in each channel?
  • Were there any significant increases or decreases in any given year? If so, do we know what caused them?
  • Did we try anything different in any given year? What was the outcome?
  • How many donors are we retaining year over year? How many new donors are we acquiring?
  • Are there any special circumstances (like a pandemic!) that significantly impacted our results? What does our growth rate look like when we remove those outliers?

Asking these questions will help you determine how and why giving is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same. If each channel is trending upward at a steady rate and your strategies are staying consistent, you can feel more confident predicting similar results in the future. If the trend is not moving in the right direction, and/or you are employing new strategies, then your goals should take that into account. Consider creating optimistic, pessimistic, and “most likely” scenarios and setting a goal using a weighted average of those. The formula is: (O + 4M +P) / 6 (aka three-point estimating).

Donor Surveys

Understanding your giving history and quantifying it is a great start. Adding qualitative data rounds out your perspective to help you envision your true potential.

Conduct donor feedback via short surveys and/or focus groups. Ask questions like:

  • What has inspired you to give to our nonprofit in the past?
  • Where does our nonprofit rank in your giving priorities?
  • How likely are you to continue giving in the future?
  • What areas within our organization are you most interested in supporting?
  • Have you ever supported an organization that you were exceptionally excited about? How did you support it and what inspired you to give?

Gaining insight into donors’ giving priorities and patterns provides useful information to help you set appropriate goals.

Peer Benchmarking

The final data point to look at is the performance of your peers, both locally and nationally. How much do organizations like yours typically raise in a given year? What are the strategies that help them reach their goals? Are there any best practices from other industries that could translate to your sector?

Of course, sometimes it can be challenging to find this data on your own. Working with a consultant can help you identify giving trends in your region, in your sector, and in the fundraising world as a whole.

Putting all this data together will help you arrive at a number that’s just right for your organization.

Create an Actionable Fundraising Plan

Once you have established a realistic and attainable goal, the next step is to create a plan for how you will achieve it. After all, you wouldn’t build a building without a blueprint or embark on a lengthy road trip without mapping it out. In the same way, you need to develop a clear, actionable plan to give your team confidence in your collective ability to achieve the goals you’ve set. And remember that all good plans begin with a vision, even if your annual fundraising plan is apiece of a larger organizational goal. Remind yourself and your team why this plan matters.

Your objectives should be quantified, measurable, and clear. For each one, lay out exactly what success looks like. An effective way to do this is to make sure your plan answers four key questions:

  • What strategies will we use to reach our goal (e.g. direct mail appeals, launching a Giving Day, events, growing our middle giving program)?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for each task?
  • When will each element of the plan take place?
  • How much is it going to cost?

When building your plan, keep in mind: Success is more about perspiration than inspiration. Yes, you need to be inspired, and you have the data and insights to create a workable strategy. But reaching your goal will require you to hold your team (and yourself) accountable.

Stay Accountable — and Agile — When Executing Your Fundraising Plan

Ultimately, your fundraising plan is only as good as its execution. It’s better to have a B- plan with A+ execution than the other way around.

To achieve the goals and objectives you’ve established, make it a point to constantly assess how you’re performing. Measure your progress and assess your strategies on a monthly basis. Ensure everyone on the team is following through on their assignments. Identify where you’re on track, where you’re off track, and what you need to do to course correct when needed.

Learn as you go, adjust, and pivot. No matter how rock-solid your plan is, it’s impossible to predict every situation that you’ll face in a given year. Not guessing correctly is not a problem, but not adjusting to new information is.

Take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. Dial back on expectations if you encounter unforeseen roadblocks and keep going. When you and your entire team do your best work and hold yourselves accountable, you’ll achieve the success you’ve planned for.

At the end of the day, remember: You don’t have to figure this out alone. Benefactor Group has the expertise, resources, and deep industry knowledge to help you set and achieve your goals. Just reach out — we’d love to help you reach for new heights.

Steve’s expertise lies in system selections, project leadership, strategic business intelligence, and ensuring that stakeholders are served by technology. He is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a frequent presenter at conferences. Steve enjoys helping nonprofits bridge the gap between technology and people. He approaches his work with two primary drivers: do excellent work and care about the clients.

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