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Your year-end strategies have been set and between Thanksgiving and New Years, contributions should start pouring in from your generous supporters who are passionate about your mission. After the chaotic push to the end-of-the-year finish line, January allows us time to sit back and reflect on what we’ve accomplished. For some, this time represents the end of your fiscal year, for others a midway point and for a few it is an in-between space. Regardless, this is still the best time to look at your data because December is the most active month of the year for everyone.

Hopefully there are at least basic reports you are reviewing throughout the year – new donors, lapsed donors, loyal donors, overall revenue, donors, and gift counts.  If you don’t currently have these basic reports, now is the time to befriend your data colleagues and work on developing them. While these are important reports to show how your programs are performing overall, I invite you to dig in deeper and explore the how and why of your results. This will really help you move from simply answering the question “How did it go?” and moving toward “Where do we go from here?” In other words, becoming strategic through an understanding of the data.

It is important to know your data and what you can influence with your efforts versus what is outside your control.  Things like politics and economic climate can be external driving factors. There are also internal driving factors that can influence our results like messaging changes, experimenting with new channels of giving, tribute giving, grants, or events revenue, that have nothing to do with what we think of as annual giving, but can influence your numbers depending on how your organization categorizes annual giving. However, things aren’t totally outside your control. If you have a mailing that performs well, can you increase the results even more with a donation match? Or maybe you notice your emails aren’t being opened. Test subject lines and sender names to try to improve results.

Having a good understanding of our data, and helping our colleagues understand it as well, helps build our relationships with them. But beyond education and information, data can help us guide strategy. You may look at your year-end numbers and realize that one fund or unit receives more gifts online – at my organization it is our children’s hospital, which makes sense because the donor demographic skews younger. This information should lead you to consider more digital efforts for this donor segment to give them more opportunities to give by offering their channel of preference.

With so many ways to slice and dice data, it can be overwhelming to determine next steps, so here is a brief outline of how to approach your data.

Step 1:  Start at the top. Look at your overall numbers for revenue, donors, and gifts. Ideally, you will be looking at this in the form of a year-over-year report that shows 3 or 5 years so you can see trends, as just looking at the previous year can be misleading.

Step 2: Determine what you are looking for. If you are down in revenue, you will want to look at gift reports such as gifts by level. If you want to know what your donors responded to then you should look at a gift by channel report to see how your channels are working for you. Make sure you are picking the right report to meet your purpose. Using a revenue report to get donor information is not going to give you the answers you need.

Step 3: Dig a bit deeper. Sometimes one report will lead to more questions and don’t assume you know the answers. You may look at a gifts by level report and see that your high-level annual giving donor buckets have declined. Don’t assume they have lapsed – maybe they moved up into major gifts. So even though your numbers are down, your program was successful in that it moved people through the pipeline.

Step 4: Write it down. I like to do bullet-point summaries of the data for myself and my colleagues. It helps make the data mentally digestible.  In addition to highlighting the important things to note about the data, I also like to include 3 key takeaways that show what we plan to do with this information going forward. Data is only useful if we use it. Some examples of this would be:

  • Overall donor counts are up X percent over last year and the highest we have achieved in the last 3 years. In reviewing additional data, it was determined there was a new event this year causing the increase.
  • Revenue was down slightly over last year but is on par with previous years. Last year there appeared to be one large gift to X fund that influenced the revenue.

We are always being asked to do more with less, and the reality is to not work harder but to work more efficiently.  Looking at your data can help you identify things that aren’t working and help you build a case for letting go of things that don’t have a high ROI for your organization. Perhaps there is an appeal that faculty love, but it really isn’t producing. Leadership will be hesitant to alienate faculty, but if you arm them with data, it becomes a conversation of logic and business rather than one of emotion. Hopefully after reading this blog, you will walk away with the New Year’s resolution to make January the month to take a deeper dive into your data with your goal being to work smarter, not harder in 2024.



Ann Fisher is a fundraising professional with more than 25 years of experience in annual giving. Ann began her career at Hospice of Michigan where she developed numerous skills from data base management to grant and appeals writing. From there she moved on to University of Detroit Mercy where she spend nearly 20 years in annual giving, eventually becoming their Executive Director of Annual Giving and Data Services. During her time at Detroit Mercy, Ann was instrumental in introducing new initiatives like online giving and crowdfunding while also improving the ROI in phone and mail and coordinating the University’s President’s Cabinet leadership giving program. Ann then spent two years at UC San Diego as Senior Director of Integrated Marketing, where she launched their first Day of Giving and restarted their grateful patient giving program. Ann currently works at Michigan Medicine where she serves as Director of Annual Giving, Leadership Annual Giving and Data Services. In 2021 Ann and her colleagues were selected as CASE Platinum Award Finalists in the Best Practices in Fundraising Award for their Nurses Week Campaign, which raised over $80,000 from 1,300 donors during the height of the pandemic. She has also served as a judge for the CASE Circle of Excellence Awards. In her spare time, Ann is an avid runner and has run several half and full marathons as a charity runner to raise money for various causes.


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