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Create actionable fundraising goals for nonprofits: 4 steps

October 11, 2021
A nonprofit employee in an office smiles, confident in the fundraising goal her organization has set.

Determining your goals at the beginning of the planning process is key to organizing a successful fundraiser. Setting fundraising goals before you promote the campaign or speak with donors helps you gauge success with key performance indicators and gives you the opportunity to exceed the goals you set for your organization.

While it’s easy to think of all the fundraising goals your nonprofit would like to achieve, each campaign should have unique objectives. For example, a short-term text-to-give campaign likely won’t bring in the funds you need to construct a new building—but it could meet a smaller goal like replenishing your food pantry for the holidays. In this guide, we’ll explore how your organization can create goals that are ambitious yet realistic and aligned with each campaign’s specific purpose.

How do nonprofits set fundraising goals?

The goal-setting process looks different for each nonprofit. Factors like the size of the organization, the organization’s financial needs, and other organization-wide goals can greatly influence a nonprofit’s fundraising goals. For instance, a nonprofit with a broader goal of growing its donor base will likely focus more on fundraising goals, like attracting a specific number of new donors, rather than striving to reach a certain dollar amount in gifts.

For most organizations, this process starts with a discussion among your executive director, development director, board, and other senior leaders. Development leaders are well-equipped to advise on potential goals as they can share insight on what is realistic or not given the context of your nonprofit’s fundraising trends.

What are the steps in designing fundraising goals for nonprofits?

Step 1: Conduct a SWOT analysis of your nonprofit.

A SWOT analysis is a study your nonprofit performs internally to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

A SWOT analysis will help you assess what makes your organization unique and where you have room to grow. This can narrow your fundraising focus, leading to more successful results. Here are the different areas you will examine during a SWOT analysis:

  • Strengths. Your organization’s strengths describe what your nonprofit is exceptionally good at and what makes you stand out from peer organizations. For example, you might have a knack for social media marketing and have access to thousands of followers. Leverage these strengths and promote them to prospective donors.
  • Weaknesses. Weaknesses negatively impact your organization’s ability to compete with peer organizations to attract donors. Common weaknesses nonprofits face include a lack of technology infrastructure, limited budget, or high staff turnover.
  • Opportunities. Unlike strengths and weaknesses, opportunities are external factors that your nonprofit has little to no control over. Opportunities are any situations that your organization can pursue to further its purpose. For instance, an opportunity could include a change in government policy that increases funding to your organization.
  • Threats. Threats are external factors that can prevent you from reaching your fundraising goals. These are generally outside of your control, including economic recessions, high unemployment rates, and tax increases. 

You can use the findings in your SWOT analysis for more than just developing fundraising goals. A SWOT analysis can help with anything from annual planning to marketing initiatives to choosing which program to fund.

Step 2: Review past fundraising campaigns.

There’s no need to start from scratch each time you need to plan a fundraiser and develop fundraising goals. Instead, look back at past campaigns and the goals you chose for them. As you look over the results of your last few fundraisers, ask yourself:

  • What worked? Look over your goals and compare them against the results of the fundraiser to see which strategies were successful. Then, think about how you will incorporate those tactics again this year.
  • What didn’t? Consider the strategies you used that may have hindered your fundraising efforts. Determine whether the ideas themselves were unsuccessful or if you can improve the strategy and execution in future campaigns.

Once you have an idea of both the successes and shortcomings of past fundraisers, look for ways that you can modify your goals based on these factors. For instance, if you notice a trend of not meeting a certain goal, you may be too ambitious and need to dial back expectations for your next campaign. But, if your nonprofit reaches and surpasses every goal you set without issue, consider pushing your organization to do more by setting higher goals.

Step 3: Analyze your nonprofit’s data.

Once you’ve examined how past fundraisers performed, zoom out and take a look at your nonprofit as a whole. First, determine whether your organization has been able to consistently raise enough to meet its beneficiaries’ needs. Write a quick summary of wins, obstacles, and what you will do differently in the future by referencing trends you identified while examining past fundraisers.

Next, analyze indicators of your nonprofit’s health like your donor retention rate and average gift amount. Make sure to go back two or three fiscal years to get a full picture of major data trends. If you’re facing low retention rates, you should set goals that focus on improving donor stewardship by communicating more frequently. On the other hand, to improve your average gift amount, you should craft a compelling ask and donor upgrade strategy to encourage donors to contribute more to your organization. 

Don’t forget to break down your revenue streams to identify which areas are most profitable. Consider grouping revenue into the following buckets:

  • Annual fund
  • Corporate gifts
  • Foundation grants
  • Major gifts
  • Events
  • Membership dues (if applicable)

Review your budget for each year and track the fundraising expenses associated with each of these categories. What was your total profit? Look for any areas that you allocated a large percentage of your budget to, yet yielded low returns—these are the best places to make cuts that maximize your revenue.

Step 4: Determine your fundraising goals for the year.

After you’ve completed a SWOT analysis and evaluated your data, you’re ready to map out your quantitative and qualitative financial goals. Qualitative goals can help you direct your focus to specific activities that will help you grow your organization’s impact in addition to financial growth. 

Here are some sample fundraising goals to help get you started:

  • Increase board participation in fundraising campaigns.
  • Test strategies to acquire new donors.
  • Grow monthly giving programs by 10 percent.
  • Grow direct mail response rates by five percent.
  • Launch a planned giving program.

Understanding how (and where) funds have been raised in the past helps you map out a solid plan to build your fundraising goals and strategies for the year. This puts you on the path to not just achieve but to exceed your fundraising goals.

Set fundraising goals that further your purpose

Designing fundraising goals is crucial, especially if you want your nonprofit to grow consistently, reach new donors, and expand its programs. But, the planning phase can be time-consuming and difficult for some organizations. Investing in fundraising software like Bonterra Donor Engagement's Guided Fundraising solution allows you to streamline your planning process, set realistic, measurable goals, and ultimately make a greater impact. 


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