What Sheldon Cooper Can Teach You About Measuring Fundraising Success

If you’re familiar with The Big Bang Theory, you may have heard of Sheldon Cooper’s version of Rock, Paper, Scissors called ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.’ Despite its more complex rule system, there’s still a clear outcome—a winner and a loser.

The world of fundraising is blurrier. There aren’t any “winners.” But at the end of your fundraising campaign it’s important to evaluate its success and failures—here’s how.

Remember, the Basics Still Apply

As with normal rock, paper, scissors, in Sheldon’s version, the old rules are still the same: scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes scissors.

In a successful fundraising campaign you want money.

But here are some other things to consider:

1. Response Rates.

Of the letters and emails you sent out, how many people responded with a gift? Calculate the total number of respondents divided by the number sent out for a percentage.

The average open rate for a nonprofit direct mail piece is approximately 2.5%, and email is roughly about 8-10%. But here’s the thing, the industry standard really doesn’t matter. You aren’t competing with other nonprofits in a fundraising campaign—you’re trying to beat what you did last time.

Set a goal for yourself and try and meet that goal. If you do, consider it a success.

2. Average Size and Number of Gifts.

Again, we stress that any donation is a good donation. But knowing these two metrics can help you forecast and plan for future fundraising endeavors. Be sure to set a specific time period for this measurement, and count all transactions within that set time.

3. Cost Per Dollar Raised.

How much did it cost your organization to raise $1?

Take into consideration all of the expenses you had during your campaign—from envelopes and stamps used for direct mailing to paying your email services provider. Take the total cost divided by the sum total of all contributions to your NPO.

Again, the key here is to look at the number you come up with and then try to beat it next time. Are there expenses you could skip next go around? Cheaper envelopes or better ways to get the word out about your campaign?

Be Open to New Ways of Measuring Success

The reasoning behind Sheldon’s revamped method of game play is that supposedly 75-80% of any Rock-Paper-Scissors games you play with a person you are familiar with will end up in a tie.

Is your nonprofit stuck in its old ways as far as measuring success? It’s not all about the money—what about new relationships created?

Did you keep all of your existing donors and gain new ones?

Above all else, keep what Peter Drury has to say in mind when dealing with metrics—“Either YOU do the accounting, or accounting gets done to you.” Don’t let one group of your nonprofit determine what makes a campaign successful.

Establish these three things before your campaign begins: what we count, why we count and how we count.

Gain More Than Money

Despite his improved rules, due to their appreciation of Star Trek, the boys almost always pick Spock and the game ends up in a tie regardless of the extra options (see the YouTube clip above).

Although your tendency will be to measure success simply by dollars earned, look to break your habit.

What else could you gain during a fundraising campaign? Here are a few things:

1. Video Content

In the midst of giving, your donors are likely fired up about your cause—get them on camera for excellent content for your website. Testimonials are a powerful marketing strategy and donors can be your best advocates, if you let them.

2. Action

You can fundraise things other than money during your campaign. Need more volunteers? Include that as a part of your fundraising campaign for people who aren’t in the position to give monetarily.

3. X, Y and Z

Need paper goods or other supplies to keep your office running on a low budget? What about supplies that you couldn’t afford in the last fiscal year but that your cause is desperately low on, such as school supplies for the kids you’re helping or canned food for the homeless?

Sometimes people are more likely to give when they can provide a tangible good rather than money to your cause—ensuring that their funds will go exactly where they intended.

While these things can’t exactly be calculated into your overall amount (unless you estimate the cost of donated items), they’re valuable and might be a way to get a donor’s foot in the door, trust your organization to use donations wisely and then in time donate financially.

How does your NPO measure fundraising success?

Image via: Comic Vine


Kathryn Pauley

Kathryn is a regular contributor to the Nonprofit Hub. Soon to be college graduate, she enjoys helping nonprofits understand better how to reach the millennial demographic—cause we are living in a millennial world, and Kathryn's a millennial girl. With experience leading the largest student-run charity event on her campus, she looks forward to bringing her unique perspective to the Hub team every day.

July 9, 2014

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