Volunteer Help With Data & Metrics

Dear Kim,

We work with refugees and immigrants, providing legal services, workshops and even sanctuary in some churches. I have been reading a lot about fundraising metrics recently and wonder how much time I should spend figuring out our retention rates and return on investment and that kind of thing? We have three paid staff: I am the development director and we have an executive director and a director of programming. We have about 100 volunteers and serve 2,500 people a year, and growing. We have about 1,000 individual donors as well as a number of faith-based organizations who are partners in a variety of ways. Sometimes we make money from workshops. We are all stretched thin but I want to run a good development program. What is the value of all this data?

~Not Commander Data, But Should I Be?

Dear Data,

Your question is very important and there is no easy or exact answer. To state the obvious, when we are doing one thing, we are automatically not doing a whole lot of other things. In economics, this is called “opportunity cost” and means that you have to compare the return on investing your time in what you are doing against the return on what you could have been doing. In your case, spending a lot of time on evaluating the various metrics you name may mean that you are not seeing donors or working with your board to help them feel comfortable raising money. On the other hand, not measuring your retention rate and not knowing precisely how much an appeal costs relative to how much it raises may mean that you are spending time on strategies that are not working very well, which is good time after bad.

I would try to think of this in a different way. In an ideal world, you would have these metrics without spending a lot of your own time figuring them out. Since you have all these volunteers, why don’t you see if one of them can help you? I teach at the University of California and some of my students love helping with fundraising assessments. Another client has a retired engineer who does all their data analysis. Your organization clearly knows how to find and manage volunteers—use that skill to get the help you need.

Good luck!

~Kim Klein