4 Key Metrics All Nonprofits Should Track In 2016 

Wendy Hathaway
Wendy Hathaway

No matter the size of your organization, your strategic goals or your mission, every nonprofit should have a way to measure its performance. Tracking data, from donor growth to social media reach, will help you ensure you’re continuing to grow, to spot potential pain points, and to identify trends or new opportunities.

How you prioritize each of these metrics will, of course, depend on what is most important to your organization, but measuring these following four areas will help you better understand how your organization is performing and how to better reach your audience!

1. Donations

Donations are likely one of your largest, if not your only, funding sources. It’s key to the survival of your nonprofit, and its potential to expand and increase the positive impact on your community, that you continue to grow donations year-to-year.

It’s important to measure more than just total dollars, though.

  • Is your number of donors growing?
  • If not, do you need more new donors, or better retention strategies?
  • How has your average gift size changed over time?

By tracking these key performance indicators (KPIs), you can flag areas of concern early and develop a plan to get back on track, as well as identify areas of opportunity for additional fundraising campaigns or activities.

New Donor Growth

The number of new donors you attract year-to-year is an important metric to watch. A steady increase in the number of new donors is a sure sign of growth in your organization. A 2015 study of over 8,000 nonprofits found that the largest growth in both dollars and donors for most organizations came from new donors.

Donor Retention Rates

Attracting new donors is not enough, of course, and building new relationships can be much more costly than practicing good stewardship among your current, or even lapsed, donors.

Acquisition and retention rates go hand-in-hand when you are working to increase total donations and dollar amounts. The same study found that while new donors account for the largest amount of growth among many nonprofits, the greatest losses came from lapsed repeat donors, and repeat donors who gave less than they had in the past.

If you find you are losing new donors, your relationship-building may need work.

Gift Size Growth

Just as it is important to continue to attract new donors and cultivate your relationships with existing donors, growth in total dollars can indicate the health of your fundraising over time.

Being able to identify trends in the size of donations can also help you adjust your tactics. For example, if many of your donors are making small gifts, you may want to put less effort into acquisition, and instead focus on existing donors who may have the capacity for a larger gift. Read more about cultivating major gifts and donors.

Another tactic is asking of all your supporters to increase their individual gifts by a certain percentage each year. Small increases spread out among many people can add up quickly.

Pledge Fulfillment

Your donors need to feel comfortable when giving to you, and one option you may provide is a pledge. At the same time, you need to plan a realistic budget based on dollars coming in, not dollars promised.

Predicting the behavior of your supporters by calculating the percentage of fulfilled pledges each year will help you make better decisions throughout your budget cycle.

Identify Trends

Closely tracking the ups and downs of donor growth and loss month-by-month might also help you find areas of opportunity, such as a slow period of the year during which you could try a new donation campaign or reschedule one of your fundraisers.

2. Return On Investment (ROI)

For nonprofits often running on limited operating budgets, it’s impossible to understate the importance of making sure you have a solid return on investment (ROI). One way to calculate this is to determine very simply how much you spend, both in currency and in time, for every dollar you raise.

This includes marketing costs (such as your email management system, advertising spending, and time spent carefully crafting clever Facebook posts), as well as donor management and event planning, everything from your donor database to room rentals.

Creative acquisition campaigns can boost awareness — an important, but often difficult metric to measure — but they can also be costly. At the end of the day, the math is simple: in order to continue doing the good work you do, you must bring in more money than you spend.

3. Email Marketing

Most email management systems can provide you with an overload of numbers and graphs, but only some of them are useful. These are the most helpful email marketing metrics to use when identifying strengths and weaknesses in your communications plan.


Open rates can be unreliable, and it’s difficult to measure whether someone has read your entire email newsletter, or accidentally clicked on it, and then moved along.

Clickthroughs (the percentage of people who clicked on one or more links in a given email) are a better indicator of engagement, and can help you figure out what your email subscribers are interested in. You can also track how your clickthrough rate (CTR) performs over time.

Constant Contact calculates the average CTR for nonprofits is 8.01% as of September 2015, but your focus should be on steady improvement in your own organization’s performance.

List Size

It goes without saying you always want to expand your audience, and therefore your list needs to grow. But people will unsubscribe — or stop reading your emails — for a number of reasons that don’t reflect the work you do. Provide good content, and focus on attracting new email subscribers, and your growth rate will likely climb.

Bounce Rate

If you have a high bounce rate — in other words, the percentage of people not receiving your emails — you need to figure out why. If you have too many hard bounces over time, which happens when you email a nonexistent address, you can get penalized by internet service providers and flagged as spam. (A soft bounce usually happens when you are sending to an email inbox that is full. These are less serious, and the email will eventually be delivered when the subscriber’s inbox clears.)

4. Social Media Engagement

Success in social media is no longer about the number of likes and followers you have. In fact, because Twitter and Facebook are constantly retooling how content appears in an individual user’s feed, many of your supporters won’t even see what you post.

There are more substantial ways to measure how many people are actively engaged with your nonprofit on social media, and your reach into their personal networks, as well as a way to evaluate what you’re sharing.


You should aim to always increase the number of clicks from social media to your website or blog. You can also track individual posts to get a better idea of what is interesting to your fans and followers, and use that to guide your content strategy in the future.


Track how often your Facebook posts are shared, or your tweets retweeted (or your blogs are reblogged on Tumblr, or your pins are repinned on Pinterest.) As with clicks, you want to continue increasing the number of shares and retweets, but can also use this KPI to see which topics tend to spark the desire to share.

Understanding the health of your organization through good data is key to success for businesses and nonprofits alike. Measuring donation growth, return on investment, email performance, and social media engagement will help you develop a keen sense of your nonprofit’s performance over time, and help you identify areas for improvement.

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