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Evaluating Fundraising Success for Independent Schools

What metrics should independent schools use to guide philanthropic campaigns? How can they best identify annual fund and major gift trends? One expert in benchmarking answered these and other questions during a recent CASE webinar.

The "Benchmarking and Measuring Advancement Results for Independent Schools" webinar took place Oct. 10 with presenter Tracy Savage, senior consultant and principal at Marts & Lundy and formerly assistant head of school for advancement at the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C.

Before identifying key indicators and evaluating progress, Savage asked a more important question: Why evaluate? "The reason we do this measuring is that so when we set our strategies for the next fundraising endeavor in front of us, we will do them in a better way [because] they'll be based on measurements that we have taken," she said.

Savage recommended tracking the following for evaluation:

  • Progress against goals, not just in dollars but in rate of increase, constituent engagement and activities. "We need to make sure these goals are based in reality, [and not just] set by the business officer and finance committee," said Savage.
  • Prospect pool capacity, affinity and inclination, and rate of return on money asked. Savage recommends performing an electronic screening of your donors at least every two or three years.
  • Donor retention: One-time donors vs. new gifts. "We are very creative in coming up with new challenges for young alumni and senior parent donors, and then the next year comes around and you didn't keep them for longer than that year," said Savage. "So that challenge worked to give you some dollars but it didn't enhance your overall philanthropic picture."

Appeal effectiveness, percentage of leadership gifts and volume of solicitation are other indicators that should be included in a comprehensive measurement program, said Savage.

When benchmarking, Savage suggests:

  • Strive to maintain consistency in the makeup of a peer cohort over time.
  • Strive to maintain consistency in the data assessed and reviewed.
  • Compare similar schools as well as aspirational schools. Since no two schools are exactly alike, look at differing aspects with accuracy and not anecdotes.
  • Use a benchmarking tool like the CAE/Voluntary Support of Education Survey, which can slice results by a variety of indicators.

More information on the webinar. 

This article is from the October 2013 issue of BriefCASE.