Using Central Tendency to Analyze Results

Posted on 07/01/2023

You don’t have to be a statistician to recite the results of a fundraising campaign. But don’t mistake doing so with being analytical. Yes, reporting results is an important aspect of fundraising. But being analytical means finding the story in the data. To do this, you need to give those results some context.

Imagine that you are asked how your last fundraising appeal performed. You reply that it raised $7,500. The problem here is that your statement actually raises more questions than it provides answers. Is $7,500 good? How do you know? A number all by itself is just a number, but comparing it to something else puts it into perspective, offering a more comprehensive understanding of its value.

A great way to give meaning to your data is the compare your result metrics to one of the three measures of central tendency, also known as the measures of central location. These are the mean, the median, and the mode. Here’s how:

  1. Mean (also known as the average). This is the sum of every number in a data set divided by the total number of data points. For example, if your annual fund raised $10,000 last year from 100 donors, then the average gift per donor would be $100 ($10,000/100 = $100). However, the mean can be skewed by outlier gifts. For example, if one of those 100 donors made a single donation of $5,000, it would inflate the mean. Without that one donation included in the calculation, the average would be only $50, so it’s important to remember that the mean does not necessarily give an accurate representation of the typical donor’s gift.
  2. Median. This is the middle value when the numbers in a data set are arranged in ascending or descending order. If the number of values in a data set is even, then the median is the mean of the two middle numbers. For example, imagine that your phonathon received five gifts last night in the amounts of $75, $95, $100, $125 and $1,000. In this case, the median gift would be $100, since it is in the middle when you sort the gift amounts from lowest to highest. This is significantly lower than the mean gift of $279. Since outlier gifts can be common in fundraising campaigns, the median can be a good way to measure central tendency and paint a more accurate picture of a typical giving pattern.
  3. Mode. This is the value that occurs most frequently in a data set. For example, if your program received five gifts in response to an email appeal in the amounts of $50, $50, $50, $205, and $500, then the modal gift would be $50, because it occurred more often than any other gift amount. Understanding where a distribution of gifts tends to cluster can be helpful when assessing the messages and ask amounts that go into your appeals or online giving forms.

These three measures of central tendency offer tools to evaluate the performance of your fundraising appeals and programs. By providing context to your results, each one can help you understand how an individual metric compares to the greater population and where it falls within the overall range of outcomes. Ultimately, this will let you know if you can celebrate your success, or if it’s time for your team to head back to the drawing board.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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