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Measuring Success in Fundraising

When researching our book The Leaky Bucket: What’s Wrong With Your Fundraising…And How to Fix It, my coauthor, Ellen Bristol, and I found that few development offices measure the right things or, even worse, measure anything at all. Our finding was consistent with anecdotal experiences that were shared with us by thousands of development professionals in workshops and webinars.

Did You Know?

The Leaky Bucket: What's Wrong with Your Fundraising and How You Can Fix it, by Ellen Bristol and Linda Lysakowski, ACFRELinda Lysakowski, ACFRE, is the coauthor, along with Ellen Bristol, of The Leaky Bucket: What’s Wrong With Your Fundraising…And How to Fix It, published by CharityChannel Press.

This is one of the lessons nonprofits can learn from the business world—measurement is critical for improvement.

Some basics every nonprofit should be measuring include:

  • total dollars raised through fundraising
  • total dollars raise in each category of fundraising, for example—grants, corporate funding, special events, direct mail, telephone fundraising, in person fundraising, and online fundraising
  • total number of new donors attained each year
  • total number of donors who increase their giving this year
  • total number of donors who decreased their giving this year
  • total number of donors who stopped giving this year
  • total cost of fundraising program

It’s Not Just About the Dollars

Remember, though, it’s not just about the dollars. You should be measuring things such as number of donors in your pipeline, number of grant proposals being written, and percentages of your database to give it all.

It’s important to remember that you can measure things “upstream” and “downstream.” These are called leading indicators and trailing indicators. Trailing indicators are generally measured more than leading indicators, but both are important.

Trailing indicators would include things such as:

  • total number of grants received this year
  • total dollars netted at our special event
  • total number of planned gifts received

Leading indicators include items such as:

  • number of visits to major donor prospects made this month
  • number of major donors who attended our cultivation event and will be added to our prospect list
  • total number of potential grant funders researched

Measure, Measure, Measure

So don’t forget to measure, measure, measure, both before and after the fundraising transaction, and both monetary and nonmonetary goals.

Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

About the Contributor: Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

Linda serves as Acquisitions Editor for CharityChannel Press and For the GENIUS Press. In this role she has edited dozens of books.

In addition to her role as editor, she is an accomplished author. Linda is the author of:

Recruiting and Training Fundraising Volunteers
The Development Plan
Fundraising as a Career: What, Are You Crazy?
Capital Campaigns: Everything You NEED to Know
Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign workbook
Raise More Money from Your Business Community
Raise More Money from Your Business Community—The Workbook
Fundraising for the GENIUS, 1st and 2nd editions
The Matriarch (a novel).

She is also a contributing author to:

The Fundraising Feasibility Study—It’s Not About the Money

YOU and Your Nonprofit Board


Co-editor of:

YOU and Your Nonprofit and The Nonprofit Consulting Handbook

The Nonprofit Consulting Playbook


And co-author of:

The Essential Nonprofit Fundraising Handbook
The Leaky Bucket: What’s Wrong With Your Fundraising…And How You Can Fix It

The New Donor

Nonprofit Strategic Planning

Quick Guide to Developing Your Case for Support


A graduate of Alvernia University and AFP’s Faculty Training Academy, she is a Master Teacher. Linda is one of slightly more than one hundred professionals worldwide to hold the Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive designation. She is president of Linda Lysakowski, LLC, dedicated to inspiring creativity and philanthropy. In her thirty plus years in nonprofit work, Linda has managed capital campaigns, helped hundreds of nonprofit organizations achieve their development goals, and trained more than 30,000 development professionals in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Egypt, and most of the fifty United States.


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