Setting & Meeting Fundraising Goals: 4 Tips to Drive Results

Setting & Meeting Fundraising Goals: 4 Tips to Drive Results


Christina Tomlinson


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Are your fundraisers centered around getting results? While it may seem obvious, many institutions don’t approach their fundraisers with concrete goals in mind. And without clear goals, it’s nearly impossible to tell if you’re succeeding.

Setting goals enables you to track progress and provides you with the information you need to adjust your strategies as you go. So how can you be sure that you’re setting effective goals?

We’ve worked with a range of causes to reach their fundraising goals. After overseeing thousands of campaigns, we have a strong idea of what works (and what doesn’t) when selecting and progressing toward goals. Using this firsthand experience, we’ve pulled together four actionable steps to help set and meet objectives. Ready to enhance and exceed your campaign goals? Let’s dive in.

1. Check that your goal passes the SMART method

One of the most popular goal-setting methods is the SMART framework, which many industries have adopted. As your institution creates its fundraising goals, walk through each part of the five-step model below to make sure your objectives are clear and actionable to inspire your supporters. Here’s what criteria your goals should meet:

  • Specific – It’s not enough to say, “We want to raise more than we did last year.” Select the KPIs you want to monitor. What specific amount do you want to collect, and what programmatic impact do you want to achieve? As a general best practice, use historical data as a reference point and select goals that are marginally higher based on past trends. For instance, let’s say you want to increase funding for a specific program. Two years ago, donations to the program increased by $4,250 compared to the previous year, and the next year, it increased another $6,000. It’d make sense to set a specific goal of $7,500 for the upcoming year.
  • Measurable – Are you able to measure the goal? Without a quantifiable objective, you won’t be able to measure progress. For example, if your goal is to raise “a lot” of money, everyone will have their own interpretation of what that means.
  • Attainable – You want the goal to be difficult to reach to foster inspiration and growth,  yet not so high that it seems impossible which will only be a discouragement to both donors and fundraisers. Understanding your donor base’s giving capacity and affinity will help substantially here. For instance, do you expect several donors to give $15, or a few major donors to give $1,000?
  • Relevant – People value actions that make a difference, so you should know the “why” behind all fundraising goals. Ensure goals are directly related to your mission. For instance, if you’re raising money for a sports team, your goal could be to raise $1,000 to buy new uniforms. That way you are raising toward a mission-driven goal, not to meet a number on a spreadsheet.
  • Time-Based – Clarifying when the deadline is to participate will create a sense of urgency. Plus, a timeline makes it easy to track progress. If you’re two weeks into a month-long fundraiser and you’re nearly halfway to your goal, you’re in a good position. If you’re falling behind, you’ll know to step up promotional efforts.

Walking through this framework will allow you to create actionable goals that help your cause reach new fundraising heights, rather than goals that don’t quite get the job done.

SMART Goal Example

Now, let’s discuss an example so you can gauge what a SMART goal looks like. Let’s say you work for a local nonprofit that provides school supplies to children in need. Your annual campaign is coming up, and during last year’s campaign, you raised $12,375.

Based on last year’s results, you decide on an ambitious yet reasonable goal of $16,000 to supply 600 students with new school supplies. Your campaign will begin on August 4th and run through September 1st, giving you one month to reach the goal.

Notice how there are specific, measurable criteria in place that allow you to track progress. There’s also a clear start and end date to motivate your community to contribute.

A goal like this effectively communicates your mission and need for support. In turn, people are much more likely to participate than if your goal is to “raise  money to buy supplies for students.”

2. Set suggested giving levels

Once you’ve set your primary campaign goal, it’s time to plan how you’ll meet (and hopefully exceed) those objectives. Every dollar you inspire donors to give adds up, and setting strategic giving levels is one effective strategy that nonprofits use to accomplish this.

When setting your suggested giving levels, base them on your past campaign results and set amounts that are marginally higher than the average donation amount. Go one step further by pairing incentives with each giving level so supporters can envision their impact.

Consider that you work at an institution that feeds children through an afterschool program. Take the following campaign incentives for example:

  • A gift of $25 feeds a student for a week.
  • A gift of $100 feeds a student for a month.
  • A gift of $450 feeds a student for the semester.
  • A gift of $900 feeds a student for the entire school year (180 days).

Tying tangible outcomes to donations will effectively demonstrate the impact that each donation can make. In turn, this can inspire prospects to potentially increase their contributions.

3. Keep your donors updated

According to Fundly’s crowdfunding statistics, campaign owners who update their supporters at least every 5 days raise an astounding 3 times more in donations than less communicative campaigns. That’s because keeping your supporters in the loop allows them to take action.

The key is transparency. Of course, everyone wants to hear that the campaign is in line with the goals you set, but they also need to know if you’re facing roadblocks and what they can do to help. If you’re falling behind, donors will know to step up their efforts, whether that means donating again or proactively sharing your campaign with friends and family.

One of the easiest ways to remain fully transparent with supporters is by featuring a fundraising thermometer. Donation thermometers help users visualize progress toward fundraising goals. Take a look at this example from Current Builders:

Notice how the thermometer is prominently displayed and effectively conveys progress. In addition to donation thermometers like this one, be sure to provide general updates on social media and your website to keep donors informed. If you’re hosting a crowdfunding campaign, you can also post these updates on the campaign page itself.

Setting up a system to update donors is crucial for success. According to 360MatchPro’s fundraising statistics, 48% of nonprofits use an editorial calendar to organize their campaign outreach. Whether you set a schedule to provide timely updates or share progress when you reach certain milestones, consistent updates convey that you’re personally invested in your campaign and encourage donors to do the same.

4. Analyze your campaign results

Your campaign isn’t quite over until you analyze the results. As you finish up, take the time to record what went well and what to improve for future campaigns.

Start with your data. Did you reach your campaign goal? If you fell short, how far off were you? If you exceeded your goal, how much more did you raise than anticipated? How many new donors did you gain?

Then consider why you received the results you did. For instance, did you notice surges in giving after you shared updates? Did you sufficiently tie your campaign back to your mission? Did you run into any unforeseen obstacles?

Strategize with your team to figure out how you can implement them in your nonprofit fundraising strategy. And don’t forget to share these results with your donors. After all, they’re the ones who donated their hard-earned money to your cause.

Beyond a statistical analysis, it’s also smart to also gauge your audience’s perspective on the matter. This is a prime opportunity to develop stronger relationships with donors one last time through your campaign by sending a survey to donors and anyone else who contributed to the success of your campaign.

Ask what they liked about the campaign, what could’ve been done to motivate them to give more, and any other suggestions they’d like to share. Not only will they appreciate that you’re asking for their opinion, but they can provide an outside perspective and help you pinpoint improvement opportunities that you might otherwise overlook.

To wrap things up, every campaign should start with a SMART goal. From here, you can effectively move forward with a plan to achieve those objectives, such as setting suggested giving levels and providing consistent updates on progress. Keep in mind that every campaign finds success in different methods, so keep a close eye on what works during and after your campaign.

With these tips at the forefront of your strategies, you’ll be more likely to inspire donors to step up their giving to reach the concrete goals you set. Good luck!

About the Author

Christina Tomlinson

Christina Tomlinson is the VP of Marketing & Events at Pathable. With over 8 years of experience in the event industry, Christina prides herself on her creativity, passion for people, and ability to create memorable experiences. Before joining the Pathable team, some of Christina's experience includes directing a team as the Associate Director of Events for a DMC in Austin, TX and marketing, planning, and executing brand events as the Regional Event Manager at a corporate experiential agency. Through her years of experience, Christina strives to remain a thought leader in her industry, and places a high value on evolution and growth in the events space.

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