How nice would it be to set a fundraising dollar goal that you had confidence in?

Around now, many programs are developing goals for the coming fiscal year.  I’ll be the first to say that fundraisers are a fundamentally optimistic community by nature – it’s part of what keeps us going.  But when I see a document with goals in it, the first thing I ask is, “How did you come up with this number?”

And an alarming number of times the word “believe” or “hope” is part of the explanation. Or, “We raised X last year, so I increased it by x%.”

Let me say up front, I’m all for growing fundraising results – I’ve built a 30-year fundraising career on that.  But as a professor friend once said to me, Beliefs are for church. And if you do the same thing as last year, what makes you think the results will be different?

After a year when nothing seemed to be in our control, wouldn’t it be nice to actually know HOW you were going to achieve your goal?  With some thoughtful planning, you can, at any scale.  Here’s how.

Start with your wish. 

Want to increase your revenue 5%?  OK, let’s start with that dollar number just as a placeholder.  But don’t get too attached…yet.

Embrace the 80/20 rule.

We’ve all heard that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the donors.  And no matter the organization, the principle by and large holds true – and is often even 90/10.  So, make sure that you are focusing your energy on securing the gifts that will drive most of your revenue.  This means prioritizing the work of asking – as personally as possible – for the gifts at the top and saving the latest fun shiny stuff as something to “get to” if you have time.

Build a gift table.

It doesn’t matter if you have 500 donors of 50,000, the process is the same. Make Excel your friend.  Pull a list of your donors from last year and count how many you had and how much revenue was secured at each giving level.  Look at the table and see what the donor count and shape is.  What does it look like?  The example below is based on a real organization – and shows the opportunity to move people up at all levels and at the top end, by asking for increases and building gifts over time at the $2,500 level particularly.

Gift Level Households

OR Donor

Average Gift Total at Level
$50,000 0 0 0
$25,000 1 $25,000 $25,000
$10,000 7 $11,429 $80,000
$5,000 16 $6,376 $102,010
$2,500 40 $2,935 $117,416
$1,000 169 $1,377 $232,790
$500 311 $624 $194,218
$250 444 $321 $142,415
$100 1,679 $113 $189,134
$50 2,307 $58 $134,392
$25 2,255 $31 $70,460
Under $25 1,507 $18 $26,492
TOTAL 8,736 $150 $1,314,327

Now play with it a little and see how many more donors you would need at different levels to get to your hoped-for goal.  Remember the 80/20 rule – don’t add 5% across the board, but think about where growth at the top half of your table might get you there.

Map out the feasibility and put names behind the numbers.

Starting at the top of the table, put names of the individuals or entities you are planning to solicit at each level, particularly for the top half of your gift table.  Count how many records you have (either households or individuals) to ask for each level of gifts.  How does this compare to what you received this year?

Do a reality check and adjust.

This is the moment where optimists get into trouble.  We want to believe that our lead donor(s) will be 100% sure to give this year.  But you know what?  This year of all years should remind you that life is unpredictable.  So, at the very top, if you know two donors REALLY well, you still need to assume one of them might not come in at that level.  A ratio of 3 asks at that level to every one gift needed is even better, and if you really don’t know your donors that well, go to 5:1.  Now you can see how many donors you need to reach your goal.  If you have enough people to ask, then go for it.  If you don’t, adjust your goal accordingly, or go back to your colleagues, board members, or other volunteers and see if there are any other names you could add.  If not, be realistic.  If yes, go for it.

Gift Level FY 21 House-holds FY 21 Average Gift FY 21 Total at Level Number Identified to Ask at This Level FY 22

FY 22 Goal
1 out of
3 OR 4 Ratio
Depending on Confidence Level

Avg. Gift (Use 21 Actual)  

Total Revenue Forecast


$50,000 0 0 0 4 1 $50,000 $50,000
$25,000 1 $25,000 $25,000 3 1 $25,000 $25,000
$10,000 7 $11,429 $80,000 22 7 $11,429 $80,000
$5,000 16 $6,376 $102,010 45 15 $6,376 $95,634
$2,500 40 $2,935 $117,416 168 42 $2,935 $123,287
$1,000 169 $1,377 $232,790 702 175 $1,377 $241,055
$500 311 $624 $194,218 945 315 $624 $196,716
$250 444 $321 $142,415 1804 451 $321 $144,660
$100 1,679 $113 $189,134 7024 1756 $113 $197,808
$50 2,307 $58 $134,392 9380 2345 $58 $136,606
$25 2,255 $31 $70,460 8940 2235 $31 $69,835


1,507 $18 $26,492 5956 1489 $18 $26,176
TOTAL 8,736 $150 $1,314,327 34,993 8,832   $1,386,776

                                                                                                                                                              5% increase!

Work it!

Now that you’ve made the effort to figure out how you are going to make the goal, make sure you are reporting on gifts by level every month, monitoring your progress at each level and ensuring those donors – particularly at the top end of the gift table – are being asked in a timely and appropriate way for support, particularly at tax year-end.

Don’t let yourself get distracted!  This is the most important report to use.