Posts Tagged ‘root cause analysis’

Make a home for root cause analysis in your fundraising

There’s an exercise many of us are familiar with called root cause analysis. However, where we’re most likely to see this method used is on the programming side of nonprofit organizations. Performance management expert and nonprofit author, Ellen Bristol, argues that root-cause analyses are supremely useful in the fundraising arena—specifically with an approach called “Plan, Do, Check, Act.”

Bristol asks an important question: How do you know where your fundraising system is breaking down when you’re not reaching your targets? She states that according to Robin Tyndhall, a contributor to, continuous improvement involves 1) meeting or exceeding the needs of external and internal customers, 2) looking at process problems that usually drive most business problems, 3) involving employees, and 4) using good data to drive good decision making.

To address these factors and use the data to find places needing improvement, the author suggests the combination of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle and root-cause analysis.

Root-cause analysis

Root-cause analysis provides systematic methods to complete PDCA: Plan for your goals; Do the plan; Check the results by comparing them to the original plan; and modify the plan (take Action or take no Action). In continuous improvement, you are trying to identify undesirable results, justify improvement initiatives, implement improvement plans and reevaluate to see if the improvement produced the desired results.

Start with a problem statement to move away from blame

Root-cause analysis tries to discover the earliest point where productivity is lost. First, you need to write a specific problem statement that arises from the data, such as “Improve conversion ratio from Move Four to Move Five from 5:1 to 3:1.” In other words, if you’re using a Moves Management fundraising system, this problem statement means one out of every five prospects that come into Move Four has proceeded to Move 5. Your organization wants to change that to one in three. As you can see, this problem statement removes blame and focuses on improvement. The wrong problem statement sounds like “How come Stacy isn’t getting more prospects past Move 4?”

Three considerations for gathering input on root cause

To find the root cause, Bristol provides three categories of input in fundraising. Each category contains three or four subcategories. (See below.) Going through each subcategory and category methodically to identify the root cause can be done in review meetings to glean more input from everyone. Then, the group can decide on changes and who is accountable for the changes.

Below are the input categories and subcategories. Bristol provides helpful questions/observations in each to assess if this area is your problem. Sample questions are given for each.

1. Fundraising skills and behaviors:

Scorecard accuracy and application: Have we scorecarded each prospect we added to the pipeline? Is our Scorecard accurate or does it need some revisions?

Questioning skills: Did we rely on the suggested probing questions (what the donors want to achieve and avoid with their money and their choice of charity) to find the desired answers to our Scorecard statements? Do we need to revise the questions?

Adherence to the Donor Moves process: Did we move the targeted number of gift opportunities to the next Donor Move? Why or why not? Did we update the data regularly?

Level of execution: Did we track all major opportunities through the Donor Moves process? Did we set our targets or conversion rates at the right level?

2. Operational considerations:

Technology: Has everyone been trained on the constituent relationship management (CRM) platform? Do you have IT support and up-to-date, useful technology?

Unclear lines of authority: Do you know to whom you report? Are your performance targets clear? Do you have silos in your organization that make coordination difficult?

Misaligned goals: Does the budget allow for new initiatives you have planned? Does your fundraising department focus on donor acquisition and retention for growth?

3. External market conditions:

Local market conditions: To what extent do local-market conditions affect our fundraising results?

State-, provincial-, or regional-market conditions: If we discovered some negative pressures in the regional market, what should we do to respond?

National-, international-, or global-market conditions: To what extent do global conditions affect our fundraising results?

Try the Plan-Do-Check-Act and root cause analysis for your next fundraising review meeting. With Bristol’s guidelines, you can identify where the hiccups are in your cultivation process as well as keep meetings positive rather than blaming.

Bristol acknowledges that we as leaders can seek “better, more cost-effective and more innovative ways to achieve the mission and fulfill the vision. And that includes moving fundraising onto the same disciplined platform.” She adds, “I have always contended that acquiring income is the single most strategic function in any business, regardless of sector. Now that there are reliable ways to assess the effectiveness and efficiency—the productivity—of the fundraising function, let’s use them.”

Bristol offers a webinar to explore some of these specific performance strategies and methods for measuring what’s always felt like the “unmeasurable.” Learn more about her July 10 engagement for CausePlanet readers.

See also:


The Influential Fundraiser

It’s Not Just Who You Know

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

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