5 Important Annual Fund Metrics

Posted on 02/01/2023

Analyzing your annual fund results can be daunting. There are a ton of metrics out there for tracking the results of your appeals and programs. Sometimes it can get overwhelming and it’s not always clear which ones you should focus on or where you should begin.

Evaluating and reporting your annual fund performance becomes particularly important around the end of the calendar and fiscal years, when others—your boss, your boards, your colleagues—really start paying attention. That’s when you need to be able to articulate your results in a clear and concise way. And while it’s tempting to take a deep dive into details, you should always try to keep things simple – especially when you’re just getting started.

To get your analysis going in the right direction, here are five of the most fundamental – and important – metrics used for analyzing annual giving program’s performance:

  1. Donors — This is the number of individuals and organizations who make gifts to your annual fund. There are two categories of donors: those who receive hard credit (also known as legal or tax credit) and those who receive soft credit (also known as recognition credit). While only hard credit is important when tracking revenue, both types of credit should be considered when tracking the number of donors. Be careful not to double count.
  2. Revenue — This is the amount of money raised for your annual fund. Unfortunately, there’s no universal definition for it. Some institutions count only unrestricted gifts while others might include all current-use gifts, all gifts up to a certain threshold, or gifts received in response to a direct appeal. Before you start throwing out numbers, take a moment to remind your audience how your institution defines it and why.
  3. Participation — This is the percentage of your constituents who make a gift to your institution in any given year. Think of it as the overall solicitation response rate or what businesses refer to as “market share.” For a growing number of educational institutions, alumni participation (calculated as the number of alumni donors divided by the number of living alumni with a good address) is a top priority. The national median for alumni participation is less than 9 percent.
  4. Retention — This is the percentage of donors from the previous year who make a gift in the following year. It’s a barometer of donor satisfaction and says something about the efficiency of your programs. It’s more effective (and less expensive) to renew past donors than it is to acquire new ones. The national median for donor retention rates is around 60 percent.
  5. Leadership Gifts — This is the relatively small number of large gifts that will almost always make up the majority of your annual fund revenue. You should solicit and steward the donors who make these gifts as carefully and personally as possible. They’re also the most important donors to renew next year. While the threshold for a “leadership gift” is different from one institution to the next, the most common level for educational institutions is $1,000 or more.

Looking at these five metrics is a great place to begin analyzing your annual fundraising efforts. Tracking changes throughout the year – and from one year to the next – is an important exercise that every program manager should do on a regular basis – quarterly if not monthly or weekly. Sharing these metrics with others and benchmarking with other programs is important too. Remember, you’ll achieve what you measure. And the more you measure, the more you’ll achieve.

AGN Members receive unlimited access to our resources, discounts, and other benefits. Click here to learn more.

Want to stay up-to-date on best practices in annual giving? Click here to follow AGN's Page on Linkedin!