Leverage your school fundraising ideas with data-driven feedback.
Professional fundraisers across all areas of charitable work will tell you that there's no shortage of energy when it comes to the creative process of planning a fundraising campaign. You may have noticed that a few are willing to volunteer to help with a kick-off event or even distribute fundraising products.
What you're not as likely to find, however, are those who want to do the less glamorous job of critically assessing the fundraiser's performance. The question comes in many forms, and it's one more likely asked than answered:
"Did it work?" "Did we meet our goal?" "Why or why not?" These are challenging questions because by the end of a fundraiser, students, parents, and faculty have all personally invested much in striving to meet a fundraising goal for their school. Nevertheless, the willingness to look at your school's performance and figure out how to do better next year (even if you meet your goal) is the hallmark of good leadership and a dedicated fundraiser.
Evaluating and gathering qualitative and quantitative feedback can help you reach new levels of success year after year. When you begin with data; collect ongoing feedback; stay mission-focused; analyze your campaign promptly; and have an honest and inspiring debrief, you'll find that evaluating your fundraising program is a worthwhile investment of time and resources.
Remember these notes when you look at your school fundraising program's performance this year.
School Fundraising Evaluation Begins with Data
Dispensing with the data analysis immediately at the end of your school fundraiser is a powerful way to orient your team to the facts when analyzing best practices and areas of opportunity.
Begin with the essentials:
- Did we meet our goal?
- How much did we exceed or fall short?
Don't stop at the goal, however. You will likely also want to explore your year-over-year growth, number of products sold, customers, and students who participated. These secondary metrics can help uncover hidden characteristics about your fundraising program and the students, families, and communities helping you run it. They can also help you determine your strengths as a volunteer fundraising group.
For example, a solid year-over-year improvement may prove that your strategies worked and you have an attainable baseline goal for next year. More products sold might indicate that you selected an appealing product or set of products for your students to sell.
Funds for NGOs offer powerful insight into other metrics to analyze, particularly when demonstrating efficiency and accountability (overhead, anyone?). Faculty and administration, and your PTA/PTO members, are often interested in these numbers to know if any funds given to help promote the fundraiser were adequate.
Look at the data store first. It will provide a clear roadmap for discussion and evaluation.
School Fundraising Evaluation is Ongoing
School fundraising programs can be fast and furious campaigns to raise a lot of money to meet essential needs for the school year. While ordering, advertising, selling, and distributing, keeping track of numbers may be the last thing on your mind.
In Fundraising the Smart Way, Ellen Bristol highlights an unfortunate trend in fundraising and resource development organizations: "Fundraising is the function least likely to be touched by the benevolent hand of continuous improvement."
In short, fundraising is a "lather, rinse, repeat" activity. Rather than dynamically responding to what we see from our community and see in the data, we allow fundraisers to go on year after year with essentially the same structure.
Evaluate data in real-time, and listen—with restraint—to anecdotal feedback. If many people encounter difficulty, huddle with your team to find an interim solution.
Additionally, ongoing fundraising evaluation means annual data collection and analysis. Keep your results in a file passed on from one year to the next. This macro-level ongoing evaluation will help you see trends over time rather than discrete results from a single year. You'll be able to look back and see which years performed best and then look in your notes to see why. Perhaps that year had a particularly appealing product, or the communication strategy was engaging and proactive.
Look at ongoing in both ways: evaluate as you go in your annual fundraiser, and then evaluate your campaigns collectively.
School Fundraising Evaluation is Mission-Focused
Jason McNeal is an experienced advertising consultant who works with corporate boards and C-suites on fundraising missions. McNeal's take on mission-centered fundraising might be a radical departure from the sacred "donor-centered" approach, but he offers a compelling thought:
Our institutions should never be anything other than "mission-centered." Our focus, energy, decision-making process, and donor relations should sit on the foundation of the mission. Why are we here? Why do we do what we do? Our mission-based center should evidence our values and our purpose. If we truly live out our mission, we will put appropriate focus, recognition, and stewardship on our donors.
McNeal believes a mission-focused fundraising organization will inherently be donor-focused; one flows naturally from the other. This is not to dismantle donor-centered fundraising—the source of funds deserves heavy consideration—but it compels us to evaluate whether our fundraiser completed its mission.
Evaluating your school fundraising program in terms of your mission offers you a chance to connect all the dots. Your school could have raised more than it imagined, but did those funds make it to where they needed to go? Did it create the educational opportunities you shared with donors?
In an earlier post, we offered this sample mission statement: "The neighborhood high school can't subsidize the extracurricular sports or arts program as it has in the past. Without this fundraiser, students might not have those programs, hindering their academic success and future opportunities."
Using this example, a fundraiser should assess whether it could reinstate any of these opportunities and if the strategy for communicating this mission was compelling. Here's where you begin to ask qualitative questions like:
- What was the tone of the campaign?
- Did we engage more customers through this mission?
- Did our community believe in our "why"?
Seek success stories throughout the year to evaluate this component, and solicit honest feedback from your volunteer community on modifying or improving the mission for future fundraisers. Remember, the mission is the source of inspiration and should remain relevant to the school's needs.
School Fundraising Evaluation is Timely
School fundraisers can be demanding on those who are volunteering their time to make it successful. Once the forms are turned in, the money counted, the prizes awarded, and the products distributed, it can be tempting to close the book until next year.
Evaluating your fundraising results—including data, qualitative components, areas of opportunity, and best practices—within two weeks of concluding your fundraiser ensures that details and frustrations remain top of mind. Schedule ample time for your debrief—perhaps over lunch—and ensure everyone who contributed has a chance to give their feedback. A well-rounded perspective offers informed strategies for improvement.
School Fundraising Evaluation is Forward-Thinking
Data and anecdotal evidence tell you how you performed in any fundraising campaign. Inherently, they are reflective measures that comment on past performance. The tendency in evaluative exercises is to give a grade or make a judgment call about how things were done in the past.
But the answer to every question about how your school fundraising program performed this year should have an immediate follow-up: what do we want to maintain or change next year?
Pivoting to the future when assessing your fundraiser is a powerful way of thinking. It makes initiating next year's fundraising efforts far easier and helps you enter a problem-solving mindset. Rather than stopping at measuring the problem, you open your team up to the possibility of building on success or changing how something is done.
Evaluating your fundraiser with a forward-thinking mindset means setting goals for next year. Fundraising consultant Karen Eber Davis offers insights into goal setting and development that can help your team have a practical future-focused evaluation that builds on what you've learned from your most recent campaign.
School Fundraising Evaluation is Honest
School fundraisers are often volunteer-driven; the sheer gratitude for the time and labor can make it challenging to have an honest and open dialogue about how to improve. Nevertheless, a successful evaluation will be critical but not crippling. Your greatest gift to yourself, your school, and your team is looking at "failure" and reframing it as an "area of opportunity" without risking demoralization.
Businesses and fundraising organizations often find themselves in this predicament. With traditionally lower salaries, fewer resources, and higher demands, it can be hard to tell an employee to "do better." However, effective teams employ diverse tools to self-analyze and offer suggestions that can benefit everyone.
Honest evaluation is another reason why beginning with data is critical. Numbers tell an essential story, but not the entire story. To supplement, investigate tools like those offered by the Council of Nonprofits for organizational self-assessments. While not all of these metrics and considerations may be entirely relevant to a school fundraising program, they can shed light on ways for team members to improve personally and create a safe way to enter into honest conversation.
Additionally, consider anonymous feedback forms with questions about roles, logistics, communications, etc. Allow your team to complete these and submit them without identification. Compile and share the results with the team, and prioritize this feedback in strategizing for next year's school fundraiser.
School Fundraising Evaluation is Celebratory
School fundraising is about improving children's lives and education in our communities. After so much hard work, your team deserves to celebrate the success you all helped achieve. Indeed, ending your evaluation by highlighting your best practices is a powerful way to let people know they are appreciated and have made worthwhile investments.
Big Fundraising Ideas believes in celebrating success, which is why we love the Big Event Prize Program. These experiential opportunities are one way to incentivize success and reward those who perform well throughout the fundraiser and help the school meet its goals. These experiences range from the Super Party to Reptile Adventures and will excite all fundraising participants.
In addition to prize programs, find ways to celebrate success meaningfully with critical individuals. Ask each team member or volunteer to fill out an info sheet at the beginning of your fundraiser. Include a question about what meaningful recognition means to them. When someone goes above and beyond, refer to this sheet and see what makes them feel special. Individual recognition helps build a sense of value that can be highly beneficial in building a solid team for future fundraising campaigns.
No matter whether your fundraiser is a success, there's always room for evaluation and improvement. Fortune 500 companies and small business owners will stress the importance of capitalizing on strengths and learning from failure—which can only be achieved through actively reflecting on how a project went.
As with all aspects of leadership and project management, evaluation involves a thoughtful balance of critical improvement and positive reinforcement, as well as a dedication to improving the quality of life for children and families in your community.
For tips on planning your next fundraiser, get personalized help by emailing us and checking out some of our past blogs, including "Selecting the Right School Fundraiser for Your Demographic."
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Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He’s helped administrators, teachers, and outside support entities such as PTAs and PTOs raise millions of dollars. Clay is an owner and partner at Big Fundraising Ideas.