A New Perspective on Philanthropy and Fundraising
Post #4: Had Enough Revenue Russian Roulette?
Setting Revenue Targets in a Complex World
Oh boy, it’s that time of year: You’re working with your staff to set revenue targets. A third of your folks are setting targets that feel too high, a third too low, and the rest are in the middle… but no one agrees on which third is which! You do your best by looking at past history (10% higher make sense?), current pipeline (80% of target ok?), and team (they look burnt out, reduce by 5%?) but it can feel like voodoo and chicken entrails.
I may be exaggerating a little, but I think only a little. First, let’s acknowledge that setting revenue targets is hard. You often have a mix of public and private dollars from different sources and dynamics; even when we focus on philanthropy we’ve seen local markets are not equal in terms of size, there are lots of local idiosyncrasies and nuances; and your teams likely vary in tenure, ability, and capacity.
This means you are constantly trying to triangulate philanthropic potential (what’s possible), fundraising competency (how strong is the team), and capacity (how big is the team), all of which can swing performance significantly. As a result, making decisions on how much you can raise, and where feels at best like expensive trial and error, and at worst like Russian Roulette: spin the chamber, pull the trigger, pray.
So let’s talk about how we can start to reduce that uncertainty and danger, starting with philanthropic potential. We will continue with our fictional “Nonprofit A” to explore how we might put this data to work… though purely for my entertainment we shall redesignate said fictional example “The George Chu Center for Folks Who Can’t Decide Good and Wanna Get Better Data Too”*, or GCC for short.
GCC operates in and raises money from five metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Durham. The five sites range in age from one year old (Chicago) to ten years old (Boston). We are in the midst of our planning for next year, and also revising our five year plans. Here’s how we did it.
Understanding market size is a really helpful start — it explains about one-third of what you’ll raise if you recall from our third post — but it is also necessary to look at what folks are actually raising within each market. To do so, we gathered philanthropic data from a set of peer organizations who raise money from, and for use within each of GCC’s metropolitan areas.
By plotting these points for each market, we were able to create a distribution of philanthropic revenue by market. In Figure 1 you can see this distribution for each of GCC’s markets. Each blue dot represents philanthropic revenue of a peer nonprofit; the red dot is GCC; and the “box” is the middle two quartiles; the line in the middle is the median; and the “whiskers” a measure of standard deviation.
Figure 1: Distribution of Philanthropy by Organization for GCC’s Market
A rough gauge of potential is the median, or “typical” for the peer group. If you are above or below that line, that would indicate higher or lower performance, respectively, all else equal (note, obviously not all else is equal as these organizations range in size, capacity, strategy, mission, etc., but we find this to be a solid starting point).
Now, as always, this data is useful to inform judgement, but not good enough to replace it. So we need to overlay the story. For example, we might find that Chicago, which looks like a gross underperformer, is in fact in year 1 of operation. Perhaps San Francisco had an unfilled Executive Director position for half the year so performance below the median actually represents heroic efforts by the team. Maybe Boston was highly focused on building out public funding streams and divided their focus accordingly. Durham turns out to be a largely a programmatic outpost with minimal development staff. Context always matters!
Caveats aside, if we add up the red dots, we’ll find GCC is raising about $10.3M across all five markets. If we use the median or typical as a proxy for potential, we can add up these up and see GCC can raise up to $14.7M in these same markets. Perhaps an initial ballpark estimate for our five year revenue goals? Maybe a starting point for next year’s goal as we can see where we might increase a lot (Chicago?), or not at all (Durham?).
Hopefully you said “yes”, and then added “but we need to refine our ballpark estimate a lot before I feel comfortable committing my team to these as five year goals.” I hope you also said “knowing what is possible over time is a helpful, but our immediate need is to set targets for next year… this helps a little but don’t we need to take it further?”
Yes, the answer is yes. But I’m in the midst of an “Agents of Shield” binge, so we’ll save some for later. Stay tuned next week, same Bat Time same Bat Channel, for our next post where we will zero in on GCC’s annual and five year revenue goals!
* Inspired by The Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good.