It’s Time For Your Annual Fundraising Checkup

by Seth Rosen

My prescription for a painless fundraising checkup that will help you find any issues early on before a major course correction becomes necessary.

When the clock struck midnight this past January 1st, I made three New Years resolutions, all health related.

… Run more.

… Give up (some) pizza.

… Lower my cholesterol.

That last one came because of a check-up I had with my doctor a few months ago. A blood test showed I needed to lower my cholesterol immediately.

So long, pizza. Sniff.

The thing was, I felt fine. Great, in fact. But this was one of those things where I could take care of it now when it wasn’t such a big deal or I could wait and watch it become a big problem.

Does this sound familiar? Does this pattern exist at your nonprofit?

Let me speak directly to the Development Directors out there. Do you wait to look under the hood and diagnose a problem only after there’s an obvious fundraising crisis that can no longer be ignored?

It’s time for some preventative care — your annual fundraising checkup — where you can catch problems while they are still small and easy to correct.

Here is my prescription for a painless fundraising checkup that will help you find any issues early on before a major course correction becomes necessary.


This fundraising checkup can be done anytime, but I especially like to complete it after a period of very intense fundraising. February is a great time. Your year-end cycle is completely tied out and every bit of data has been collected.

Here are the five questions you should be asking and a diagnosis for each.

1) Are Your Major Donors Renewing?

Gift renewals from major donors are the most cost-efficient money to raise.

If you have the choice of renewing 100 donors at $250 each, or one donor at $25,000 which would you choose?

That one big donor for sure. Why? Closing that one big gift will cost less and be a lot easier than closing the other hundred small gifts. Plus, you know that donor has significant means and really likes your organization. With good stewardship it’s likely you can even increase that generous gift.

Take a look and see if year-over-year your major donors are renewing at a steady or higher level. A small amount of flux is fine, but if the number is clearly lower a year later something is wrong.

Possible Diagnosis: Lack of Cultivation-itis. Get yourself back in the game quick and stop thinking of your donors like ATMs.

2) Are Your Online Donations Holding Steady or Increasing?

Across the board, in every sector of the nonprofit universe, online giving is growing.

So if online gifts are falling at your organization, it’s time to ring the alarm bell and take a closer look. Do you have a comprehensive online fundraising strategy in place? Do you tie in social media and email in a smart way? Do you have a content plan? What have you done to cultivate (or even understand) your online audience and why they support you?

Possible Diagnosis: Lack of strategic thinking about your website. Time to try some easy fixes to your online donations before the problem escalates.

3) Have Donations from Your Board Decreased?

Reduced giving from your board is a giant red flag. Of all your stakeholders, board members should have the best understanding of why their gifts are so important.

A decrease in donations from your board is often symptomatic of a larger communication issue. Think carefully about how you select, onboard, train, and communicate with board members.

Possible Diagnosis: Lack of strong communication. The board is less engaged because they aren’t getting the information they need in a format that is easy to digest. Changing how the Executive Director delivers the Board report might work wonders.

4) How Is Your Event Revenue Trending?

Events are expensive to produce, but done correctly a special event can provide donors with a deeply emotional connection to your organization.

However, when a tried-and-true event takes a nosedive, it’s a clear signal that something has gone wrong.

Possible Diagnosis: Lack of focus. You have shifted away from the key points that guarantee successful events. These special event tips will help you get back on track.

5) Were Your Revenue Projections Totally Out Of Whack With Reality?

When your actual revenue is out of step with your projections, either up or down, something is wrong.

Revenue variances can play havoc with your organization’s ability to deliver services to clients and can make any financial planning impossible.

Possible Diagnosis: Your method of forecasting needs to be updated. Here are techniques for forecasting fundraising revenue that can help you plan appropriately and will put your organization on more stable footing.


What other questions do you ask yourself to find a problem before it gets overwhelming? What else should be part of an annual fundraising checkup? Please let me, and your fellow fundraisers, know in the comments below.

For more smart fundraising tips and tricks, please take a look at our resource for fundraisers: Dramatically Improve Your Fundraising

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