This month comes in like a lion in more ways than one. For organizations with July-June fiscal years, March is the most intensive month of the annual strategic planning calendar because, among other things, it’s when you’ll complete the analysis portion of your annual State of the Donor File evaluation. This means distilling the hundreds of pieces of data you’ve been collecting over the past two months into a dozen or so key observations about your organization’s donor giving trends, deciding what the trends mean and, more importantly, what you’re going to do about it.
Some of the basic donor and file characteristics your analysis should address are:
The number of donors giving to your organization. Is your donor file growing, shrinking or staying the same?
The number of donors that have lapsed in their giving to your organization. We know that donors lapse but how many did your organization lose in the last 12 months? Are your donors lapsing at a lower or higher rate than they did last year?
Donor loyalty. How frequently are donors giving to your organization? What’s the breakdown of first-time donors to multi-donors, and what trends do you see from year to year?
Donor generosity. Are your donors giving more, less or the same? Is it a matter of more donors giving smaller individual amounts, or fewer donors giving more?
Upgrading and downgrading. What percentage of donors are increasing or decreasing their giving to your organization? How many donors upgraded to major gift levels?
New donor conversion. How long does it take a new donor to make a second gift to your organization? What percentage of first-time donors never make a second gift?
Giving channels. What giving channels (i.e. direct mail, email, web, canvassing, telemarketing, etc.) yield the most donors? The most contributions? The highest gifts? How does donor loyalty differ by channel?
Acquisition cost recovery rate. Most organizations acquire new donors via direct response channels at a cost which is recovered over time. How long does it take your organization to recover its initial acquisition investment in a new donor?
New donor sources. What are your primary, emerging, and waning sources of new donors? How does initial and subsequent giving vary by source?
Special programs. What are the acquisition, attrition and giving patterns for monthly donors, major gift club donors, etc.?
In addition to studying these and other file characteristics, you should examine the reasons for all of your findings. For instance, if your donor file is shrinking, you need to determine why. Don’t just probe your disappointing findings though. If you find that something is doing well or better than expected, ask why too – perhaps you can expand on that success. You should also address how your findings track with the strategic priorities you established last year for your current program. If one of your organization’s strategic priorities was, for example, to retain a higher percentage of donors, did you?
Finally, with your newly acquired knowledge and understanding of your donor giving trends, it’s time to make a list of strategic goals for the new fiscal year. What problem areas did you find that you want to address? What’s working well that you want to keep doing? Your strategic priorities will be unique to your organization, but no matter what is on your list be sure to keep it realistic and keep it short – 3-5 major priorities maximum.
You still have a few more important strategic planning tasks this month. But seeing as you’ve just completed a major donor file analysis and strategic priorities for the new fiscal year, I think you deserve to take the rest of the day off. So check back next week for the rest of your March strategic planning to-do’s.