Evaluating marketing results: a minimum for non-profits

In a small non-profit, every penny (and minute) counts (unomike2/flickr via CC license)

Large organizations typically have highly developed dashboard metrics and formats for evaluating the results of key operating divisions and staff functions.  Small non-profits often have no history of formally documenting results of fundraising and marketing activities, yet you could argue that it is even more important for them to take stock because they can’t afford to waste a dime or a minute.

Evaluation doesn’t have to be complicated.  If you did a formal fundraising or marketing plan (good for you!), report out based on the quantitative goals that you established in the plan.  If your organization is more used to using the budget as its primary management tool, you should still create a framework for evaluating what you did and how it worked.

1.  Start with the BIGGIE.  What was the fundraising goal and was it achieved?  How much over or under were you compared to last year in total dollars?  What was the total percent increase or decrease compared to prior year?

2.  Analyze important variances within your program.  For example, you may have had financial goals for five or ten tactical subcategories such as events, direct mail programs and so on.  Did they beat or fall short of expectations?  Did these subcategories grow or decrease from the year prior?

3.  Analyze important variances by segment.  You may also have established particular fundraising goals for categories of donors such as demographic groups (young donors), giving level (major individual gift givers) or organization type (individual vs. business).  Were you over or under goal?  By how much?

4.  If you established leading indicators to help you know whether activity was moving in the right or wrong direction (for example, increase or decrease in mailing list size, friends on Facebook, event attendance, etc.), take a look at where you started and ended the year.  Did things play out the way you expected?  How do your results compare to benchmarks, where they exist?

5.  List and subjectively grade all of the tactics that you spent time or money upon.  Your plan may only have included major new initiatives, but for this purpose, you should give some conscious thought to everything that absorbs staff resources or costs the organization out of pocket for purposes of fund development and communications.  Do you believe they are integral to the success of your program, or are you keeping some tactics around that are no longer adding sufficient value?   One fund development manager recently evaluated all of the tactics she implemented according to this grading system:

In hindsight, was this strategy a good use of our time based on a) return on investment of time, b) return on investment of money, and c) whether it raised awareness with a significant new audience?  An “A” rating means it met all three criteria. “B” means it fell short in one area. “C” means it fell short in two areas. “D” means it was not a good use of time. “F” means we should not repeat this strategy next year.

6.  Lastly, capture lessons learned.  In the current economic environment, there is no such thing as a sure fire approach.  Everything is an experiment.  What worked as well or better than expected?  What didn’t work as well as it has in the past, or as well as you expected?

Being “planful”, as an old colleague of mine used to put it, is an important discipline in any business.  Small non-profits may think that they don’t need to get all caught up in the exercise of evaluation.  But, with finite resources and volunteer good will, I’d argue that evaluation and basic planning is even more important than it is for large organizations.  Your evaluation becomes the impetus for a smarter, better program in the year ahead.

Who should see it?  Small non-profit boards should be asking for an evaluation of the year’s fund development and marketing efforts.  Even if they’re not, providing a 1-2 page executive summary can be an extremely helpful tool to educate the Board and frame the right kind of dialogue.  Like, dear Ms. Board member, how can you personally help introduce us to major donors next year??

P.S. Did you know that Google has over 3 million hits for “marketing evaluation template” but only less than 200,000 hits for “fund development evaluation template” or “fundraising evaluation template”?


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