In such tumultuous and uncertain times, projecting fundraising revenue is a tall order. CCS provides tactical guidance and a downloadable Excel tool to help forecast your organization’s fundraising for 2021.

Forecasting fundraising revenue can be a difficult task for nonprofits in any given year. In such a tumultuous year as 2020, forecasting is an especially tall order.

Amid so much uncertainty about what the future holds, it can help to center your forecasting exercises around two key principles:

CCS has developed a downloadable Excel tool to help nonprofits make sound forecasts for the upcoming year. Using this tool and the tips in this article, you can get well on your way to forecasting revenue and developing sound strategies for 2021. We recommend following these five steps:

  1. Get the lay of the land
  2. Start with top donors
  3. Make a plan for each revenue stream
  4. Pull it all together in a table of gifts
  5. Turn your plan into action

Step 1: Get the Lay of the Land

Before diving into making projections, take some time to set yourself up for success.

Sector Historical Data

It can be helpful to first get an idea of the broader philanthropic landscape. Giving USA’s annual report is a good resource for overall giving statistics. For example, we can see from the Giving USA data below that in the Great Recession, it took roughly five years for the US to reach pre-recession giving levels. Other recessions saw less severe fundraising recovery timelines. It’s helpful to have this information as a backdrop for your projections.

CCS produces an annual Philanthropic Landscape report summarizing the major industry research on philanthropic giving in the United States. This report can also prove useful as you get a lay of the land.

Graph showing total giving numbers from 1979 through 2019, as estimated by Giving USA. Charitable giving during recessions is highlighted in blue.

Your Historical Data

Make sure to also devote significant time to understanding your own data. We recommend looking at:

We recommend starting with these basics, but you can certainly pull more pertinent information into your projections.

Step 2: Start with Top Donors

Once you have your data in place, you’ll want to focus first on your group of top donors. Remember, your best prospects are those who have already given generously to your organization.

Setting Up a Tracking Worksheet

Given how important these few donors are, track every top donor by name in a worksheet.

In our Excel tool, we’ve provided a template to track this information in tab one. In this worksheet, examine each donor’s historical giving. Determine what you plan to ask them for in 2021, and what you think they’ll donate in response.

Sample tracking chart for top donors from CCS's Excel forecasting tool.

Keep in mind that what we expect a donor to give is not the same as what we will ask them for. We recommend being conservative with gift projections, but optimistic with request amounts. Just because we’re in a turbulent year doesn’t mean you can’t aim high and be bold in gift requests. Your mission is just as important, if not more important, in trying times like these. Still, it’s best to be conservative in estimating what a likely 2021 gift might be.

How to Project a Likely 2021 Gift

So how do we go about estimating what a donor might give next year?

How to Approach a Personal Conversation with a Top Donor

It’s a great stewardship practice to call your top donors to check in, especially amid such turbulent times. During these check-in calls, you can also test the waters for next year’s giving potential. The table below provides some helpful guidance for this communication.

This table provides a sample call framework for a conversation with a top donor. Think of messaging in terms of being empathetic, informative, and inviting. Empathetic:

Listen for cues about how your donor has been impacted by the tumults and tragedies of 2020. Depending on your relationship with the donor, they might share if they’ve been impacted health-wise or employment-wise by the COVID-19 pandemic. The donor may also mention their philanthropic priorities, for example by saying something like “we’re really invested in helping our son’s school navigate this time.”

These conversations will hopefully give you a sense of the donor’s giving potential for the upcoming year. Additionally, these conversations can set up the next step: scheduling a solicitation meeting.

Step 3: Make a Plan for Each Revenue Stream

Once you have projections for your top donors established, it’s time to look at other revenue streams. In our Excel tool, you’ll find a worksheet to track this information in tab two.

Your next step in fundraising revenue forecasting is to make a plan for each revenue stream: the table in our Excel template allows space to project totals for individual major gift solicitations, foundation grants, online giving, and more.

For each revenue stream, look back at its past performance at your organization. Then marry that organizational information with current industry trends.

Some overall trends CCS is observing are described below. Keep in mind that these trends are not universal for all organizations. Even organizations of similar missions, sizes, and locations are seeing their fundraising evolve in unique ways.

To Learn More: Download our latest Fundraising Impact of COVID-19 survey report to learn how your nonprofit peers expect different fundraising programs (major gifts, foundations, etc.) to perform for the remainder of 2020.

Step 4: Put It All Together in a Table of Gifts

Next, bring all these data points together on your table of gifts. Our Excel tool will walk you through creating this chart.

Create a table of gifts to understand how many donors make up the majority of your revenue.

In the example pictured above, we can see that the majority of funds (95%) is projected to come from 12 donors. If we can focus on accurately projecting these 12 donors’ gifts, and focus on making sure these gift projections become a reality, we’ll be in good shape for 2021. Of course, we still need to get direct mail out the door, launch our online appeals, and fulfill the rest of our fundraising plans, but the bulk of our focus should be on the top part of this table of gifts.

Step 5: Turn Your Plan into Action

Now it’s time to determine how you can make your gift projections a reality. Our Excel tool has a sample timetable where you can plot out your projections month by month.

Our Excel tool offers a month by month table, pictured here, to help you plot out when you expect your fundraising revenue to come in.

Considerations to keep in mind when filling out this chart:

A chart like the above will help you compare projections versus reality. You’ll be able to know early on if you were too conservative or optimistic in your projections. After reviewing your progress, you can then adjust your projections for the remainder of the year as appropriate.

Tips for Success

The method described above is just one method among many that can be used to forecast fundraising revenue. As you continue planning for 2021 and adjusting your course as the year goes on, keep the following principles in mind:

Happy forecasting!

Planning for the future of your organization’s fundraising?

CCS offers a suite of services related to organizational planning and fundraising strategy.