One of my favorite country music singer/songwriters is Brandy Clark.

As we kick off this Agitator series on Fundraising Metrics  I’m going to invoke Brandy because her song Pray to Jesus reflects the approach to decision making by all too many fundraisers unfamiliar with simple metrics, simple calculations.

Brandy writes:

“Cause there ain’t but two ways

We can change tomorrow

And there ain’t no genie

And there ain’t no bottle

So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto.”

[ Enjoy the full flavor of Brandy’s talents and this song in the video below.]

Researchers say that, despite the low chance of success, folks hooked on playing the lotto are incapable of numeric estimation or simple calculation.  After all, as early humans we only needed to make decisions about whether that sabre toothed tiger would or wouldn’t be a threat.

Although our brains have evolved to make more complex calculations, when faced with a problem we can’t solve—particularly mathematical—our brains revert to making crude and fast decisions –like buying a lottery ticket, accepting some tribal myth passed on from one fundraiser to another, or relying on spreadsheets and metrics that often measure the wrong thing.

This process is what behavioral scientists call “magical thinking”—when superstition and ‘gut feeling’ override logic and empirical analysis.

Although I’ve spent most of my 50 year career as a copywriter I never ceased to be amazed at how little understanding most fundraisers have about “the numbers.” Frankly, I find this innumeracy not only dangerous but mighty embarrassing.

Take this note I received last year from an Agitator reader:


“You’ve written this post many times but may be worth writing another version of it. I spoke to a Head of Fundraising (who shall remain nameless) who is revered in the sector and thought to be a big brain and big thinker. Any maybe he is. But, he is also completely innumerate.

“He told me that his retention rate is 95%. No chuckle afterwards on his part, no sense at all of the near impossibility of such a statement. He is being told this, he is believing it and he is repeating it, in public…

You can see the rest of this reader’s comment here.  My point in noting it is because as a trade we fundraisers really have to do a far better job of mastering metrics.

Consequently, we’ve prepared this Agitator series on Fundraising Metrics. 


In a moment I’ll outline what we’ll cover in the next four parts of this series.  But first, let me urge you to take advantage of a free offer by the DonorTrends team to analyze your file and provide a FREE dashboard of your five most vital Fundraising Metrics.

This free process is the quickest, most accurate way for you to not only get your organization’s fundraising vital signs, but to pinpoint weak and troubled areas that need improvement such as response rates, conversion, upgrading, reactivation, retention and lifetime value.

DonorTrends has prepared a free guide titled  5 Vital Metrics to Monitor and Improve the Health of Your Fundraising Program  . By all means get it.  It’s free.

THEN…take advantage of their offer to analyze your file and calculate your metrics for free.  Don’t be afraid.  Their online system is easy to use.  Better yet, if you prefer they do it for you.  No charge.  Sign up here to get this done –quickly and without charge.

BONUS INSIGHTS. While they’re at it the DonorTrends team will also answer 7 questions every fundraiser should be asking:

  • How loyal are my new donors?
  • Is my donor file growing or shrinking?
  • How mush has revenue changed year to year?
  • On average, how much does each donor contribute?
  • How loyal are my existing donors?
  • How much is a donor worth after 5 years?
  • What can I do to protect/grow donor retention and revenue?

Frankly, the next parts of this series will prove a lot more helpful if you have your basic metrics in hand.

Coming Attractions

On Wednesday, January 17th in The Two Fundraising Metrics That Matter Most, Nick focuses on what he considers the two most important KPIs and how to use them.

On Thursday, January 18th, Nick takes on “Vanity Metrics”.  Why they’re so dangerous beyond just giving you a metric sugar high.

We’ll end the week on Friday, January 19th with The Behavioral Science of Fundraising Metrics

THEN..we’ll finish up the series on Monday, January 22nd with a post everyone should find worth rejoicing:  Explaining Abstract Numerical Concepts to Your Boss.


#1.  Get your own fundraising metrics in front of you by taking advantage of the FREE Donor Trends analysis.

#2. Dig in to this Agitator series and let us know if you found it helpful –or not—and why.

#3. Listen to Brandy Clark and remember:

“There ain’t no genie

There ain’t no bottle”

So… learn your fundraising numbers.




This article was posted in: Behavioral Science, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, DonorTrends / DonorVoice, Fundraising analytics / data, Metrics, Nonprofit management, Uncategorized.
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