Data Storytelling Series – Donation Frequency

The never-ending quest continues, as we seek to turn fundraising data into something more compelling than watching clouds move. To that end, our data storytelling series next tackles the fundraising metric donation frequency. 

Most people who work at nonprofits didn’t choose this profession so they could stare at numbers and charts on computer screens all day. But with fundraising data, it can be easy to fall into that abyss. And when you drag your board members down into the same place by overloading them with data, data, numbers, and more numbers, you run the risk of missing the main point.

Fundraising data is very useful and powerful. But it’s also easy to get lost in the weeds of minutia and miss the meaning of the data that will have the greatest impact on what your organization does next.

Donation frequency is one of the most valuable fundraising metrics, and it’s worth devoting some exclusive time to in your board meetings. Today, we’re going to show you how to use your donation frequency data to tell stories that will result in a positive, action-oriented response. 

Data is at its best when it drives smart decisions and action. Here’s how to do that with the donation frequency KPI.

What Is Donation Frequency?

Donation frequency refers to how many times per year a donor makes a gift of any amount.

Donation frequency thus has more to do with a donor’s loyalty to your organization than it does to how much money they give. That said, with the Fundraising Report Card, you can have both. You can break your donation frequency data down into five giving levels. This enables you to see how often your wealthier donors give, as well as your mid-level and lower level donors. 

How to Calculate Donation Frequency

It’s amazing how many valuable fundraising metrics you can calculate from just three categories of data – donor ID numbers, donation amounts, and donation dates. 

With donation frequency, you only need two of those. 

First, decide on your range of dates. You could look at the previous calendar year. You could look at the previous fiscal year, for whenever your budget turns over. You could also look at the previous year, starting today. Or, you could do half-years or another unit of time. But for ease of comparison and to see longer-term trends, annually is best. 

With your dates decided, you simply take each donor ID from that year, and count up how many times it appears using the donation date information. 

Once finished, you’ll have a number of gifts given for each donor ID. For some, it will be one, because they only gave once during the year. For others, it will be higher. For monthly donors, it will be 12, or more if they also gave in response to other fundraising campaigns. 

Take all your individual donor frequencies, add them up, and divide by the number of donors. That’s your donation frequency. 

You can do this work with a spreadsheet, though it can get a bit tedious. You can also compute it in seconds using the Fundraising Report Card, and save yourself all the hassle, time, and risk of making a mistake in your calculations. 

Example Calculation

To make sure this is clear, here’s a small sample calculation. 

Suppose you have ten donors, and they gave this many times in the past year: 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 12, 12, 12, 13.

Add up those ten individual donor frequencies and you get 59. 

With ten donors, divide 59 by 10, and you get a donation frequency of 5.9. 

What Donation Frequency Tells You

You can see from that example the effect monthly donors have on this fundraising metric. In this example, we included four monthly donors, plus six occasional donors including three who just gave once, and three repeat donors. 

The monthly donors have a dramatic effect on the donation frequency KPI. Remove them from the calculation, and your donation frequency plummets to around 2. Without monthly donors, you will have a very hard time getting your donation frequency much higher than that, because all the one-time donors will always bring down the average. 

Thus, it is recurring monthly donors who have the greatest effect on your donation frequency metric. 

Limitations of Donation Frequency

Remember – all fundraising data can be valuable if used well, but can also lead to myopia. This is just one metric. If you fixate on it at the expense of some of the others, you’ll get an incomplete picture of what’s happening. 

The biggest omission from donation frequency is donation amount. Donation frequency doesn’t directly correlate to a larger or healthier budget. Monthly donors are great, but if your average monthly donor gives $20 per month – one major donor giving $50,000 counts the same as 208 monthly donors over the course of a year.

The Benefits of Giving Levels

One way to keep donation frequency in perspective is to break it down into five giving levels. The Fundraising Report Card does this for you automatically. 

With giving levels, you can now see your donation frequency data for donors giving:

  • Under $100
  • $100 to $250
  • $250 to $1000
  • $1000 to $5000
  • Over $5000

To reach the fourth giving level, a monthly donor would need to give at least $83 per month. This means you probably won’t have very many monthly donors in the highest giving level. But you also probably won’t have very many in the lowest. To give under $100 per year, a monthly donor would have to give less than $8.30 per month. 

With these extremes in mind, you can already see how a campaign to increase your monthly donors will show up in your donation frequency data. Predominantly, you would expect to see most of them congregate in the middle three levels.

Turn Donation Frequency Data into Stories

Donation frequency reflects loyalty and commitment. These aren’t flash-in-the-pan donors. These aren’t donors who give because everyone else is giving, or because they saw something amazing on social media, or some other temporary motivation. 

The story of donation frequency is about grit, determination, perseverance, and standing up against the odds to achieve something great for the benefit of others.

That’s what your numbers have to say. 

Create Data Visualizations to Dramatize the Impact

Using graphs to tell stories is more effective than just words or numbers. Visuals are just more powerful, and one image can communicate a whole story. 

The Fundraising Report Card creates graphs for donor frequency – at all five giving levels if you want it – in just seconds. This would take hours of staff time to do on your own.

Suppose you run a campaign to increase your monthly donors. Before and after the campaign, create graphs of your donor frequency, and see the effects of the campaign visually. That’s a story.

Dig into the Data to Find the People

The next part of telling stories with donation frequency is to find some people who reflect the sort of repeat donors you want to target and cultivate relationships with. 

Your monthly donors are bonded to your organization in a unique way – more than typical donors in most cases – with the exception of major donors. 

Find some monthly donors who have given every month for years. How many of them have also volunteered in some capacity? How many have advocated for your mission, invited people to join, or contributed in other tangible ways?

These people need to be continuously cultivated. Doing so will, in some cases, lead them to increase their monthly donations. That won’t affect your donation frequency data, but it will affect your average donation metric, which pairs up well with this one. 

How do you cultivate existing monthly donors? A few suggestions:

  • Make a personal phone call to all monthly donors at least once per year
  • Offer them exclusive content, newsletters, and videos that connect them to the impact of their giving
  • Ask them what your mission means to them – and listen! 

Asking about your mission may reveal some common themes among your most loyal supporters. If so, this will inform how you communicate to others when you invite them to become monthly donors. You use the stories of your current monthly donors to win new ones, and increase your donation frequency. 

Fundraising Data Storytelling Begins Here

Your board will eat this stuff up. This will engage and excite them far more than just talking about numbers like it’s a dissertation. Ditch the jargon. Replace it with drama, visuals, and real people who the numbers represent. 

You can use data visualization and the Fundraising Report Card’s nearly endless array of data categories and KPIs to unpack what’s really happening with your donors at different levels. 

And, donation frequency is just one of numerous fundraising metrics and KPIs you can analyze using the Fundraising Report Card.

See what else the Report Card can do

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