FYI Blog

You Are Not Average

As a consultant, I love a good benchmark. Give me a hot-off-the presses report and I devour it immediately.

But as a savvy fundraiser, I must share this PSA with the nonprofit world: You are NOT average. You MUST dig into the data behind industry benchmarks.

The problem with averages is that they aggregate performance from the extremes and don’t always take into account a nonprofits uniqueness in their sector. Your museum acquisition performance does not equal a puppy rescue appeal.

For example, Blackbaud recently released its 2020 Charitable Giving report.  While overall revenue increased 2% in 2020, a look at the sector-level trends reveals the reality beneath the surface. The increase was primarily driven by a 12% increase the Human Services sector. Eight of the 11 sectors tracked in the report saw fundraising decreases. Taken further, when I look at Avalon clients’ 2020 revenue (most of which fall into the public and society benefit sector), the majority of them had strong increases over 2019, as much as 20%. But the benchmark shows an increase of just .8% for that sector.

Additionally, the report touts a record high of 13% for the percentage of revenue that comes in online. Great overall and reflective of the heavy shift to digital driven by the pandemic and other factors in 2020. But 13% would be considered devastatingly low for many of Avalon’s clients, who drive digital giving across fundraising efforts, yielding 20-26% of revenue coming from digital sources.

Another industry insight shows the average nonprofit donor gives 2.6 gifts per year. I appreciate that the post ends with a call for nonprofits to run their own numbers. That’s good advice. Especially if, for example, you’re an arts membership organization 2.6 gifts per donor per year isn’t happening. It’s more like 1.2!

Now, before you accuse me of disparaging benchmarks or any particular company, I want to reiterate that industry benchmarks serve an important function and can be critical guides for nonprofits. My point is that benchmarks are just one tool in your toolbox. Industry aggregate reports must be viewed at a deeper level to understand important nuances by sector to ensure you’ve got the whole data story.

Again, you’re not average. But who wants to be anyway?