Internal data, also referred to as your analytical data, needs to be monitored carefully too.
How are your donors behaving? What is actually happening to your campaigns?
Of course – this data can tell you if donations are up or down compared to last year, but it is impossible to do a controlled test. (Unless you can find a way of mailing donors that don't know anything is happening to the economy!)
So, if income is down, it could be because your campaign is not as good just as much as it could be the recession.
Historical data provides useful guides, and whilst what happened last time is a useful reference point it is no guarantee about what will happen this time. There could be multiple variables at play, things could be very different to last time, so plan accordingly.
Your early decisions should all be about ensuring that you are doing everything you should be doing. E.g. You know you should be calling your top donors to thank them, but haven’t been because you were too busy, or you know you should be hyper-personalising your copy in your appeals but the return on investment (ROI) was lower. In times of crisis aversion it is even more important to concentrate on net – not ROI).
But keep on top of the data. You should measure these key indicators:
Cash appeal response rates: year on year comparisons for equivalent appeals (the same one last year) and equivalent segments not just overall response rate.
Cash appeal average gift: year on year comparison for equivalent appeals (the same one last year) and equivalent segments as above.
Look at those donors who respond to this year and last year equivalent appeals and see if there is any difference/movement in their average gift.
Also have a look at response compared to what you asked (are you asking for a fixed amount, the same each year? did you make an upgrade ask each time etc?).
It would be easy to declare 'My average donation is down!' but look at what most people were asked for. For example, last year, you may have asked for 1.5x previous gift, but this year - in fear of recession - you asked for just 1.0x previous gift.
Number/value of large gifts to appeals: although this is hard to compare if you are only getting a handful, say up to 20 $1000+ gifts per appeal.
Keep in mind high value givers tend to give less frequently than lower value givers so ensure that you are not directly comparing the performance of your top givers with your mid – low value multi givers as their behaviour is different anyway.
Regular/Monthly giver attrition: Ensure you are looking at Face-to-Face (Direct Dialogue) recruits separate to those recruited via other methods Mail, Phone, Online etc (which you can group together).
Look at the attrition by month since recruitment.
Cash donor lapsing rate (% change in comparison to last year): This is a useful top line measure but keep in mind its not going to be until well into next year when we are going to be able to see if there is an impact.
The majority of cash charity donors give either once or twice per year – higher for those organisations that make more than 6 appeal asks per year.
The response rates of Regular/Monthly givers who have never made a cash gift and Regular/Monthly givers who have made previous cash gifts to cash appeals (yes you should be asking all recruited via methods other than Face-to-Face for donations in some of your appeals). Compare to previous years.
We know they are still supporting but they may stop the “extra support”.
Recruitment response rate: should be monitored though variables such as audience (compare proven or unproven lists), creative (new or proven pack) and timings are all determining factors – you need to compare like with like.
If you are running ongoing and/or large scale acquisition via mail, phone or online try for evidence across several campaigns as opposed to looking at a campaign only level.
For Face-to-Face, attrition and recruitment volumes are your best measures.
If you can’t get in a benchmarking type program, chat to those who are in them and find out what is going on with them, and also chat with agencies, experts and most importantly other charities – but always ask ‘What is the data saying?’
Make sure you understand the difference between opinion - eg “Charity Commission says 1 in 4 fundraising directors say that their income has been harmed by the economy slowdown” and fact “23 Australian charities compiled their data which shows no decline in individual (cash and regular) giving for 2008 compared to 2007”. Both convey valid information, you just need to know the evidence behind what you are reading before making a decision.
Head of Global Data Services