Measuring Success in Nonprofit Marketing

In the early 1900s, the department-store magnate John Wanamaker famously quipped, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

A century ago, it was incredibly difficult to measure marketing and advertising success. Thanks to advances in technology, we now have the ability to more effectively track our marketing efforts. 

But even now, the common question, “How do you know if your marketing is actually working?” leads to lots of head-scratching. 

At Roundtree, we help nonprofits clarify and amplify their marketing to grow their donor base. Tracking your success along the way is an essential part of meeting your goals efficiently and effectively. 

So how do we do that? 

We do it through a mix of quantitative (objective) and qualitative (subjective) measures. 


On the quantitative side, we use two main tools to track marketing performance. 

1) Leading Indicator: Google Analytics (GA): By connecting GA to a client’s website, we can track web traffic, bounce rate, session duration, email sign-ups, conversions, and a host of other valuable data points. Using analytics, we can honestly answer these important questions: Are we driving more people to the website? Are we getting users into the “sales funnel” (to borrow a sales term)? Most importantly, are we getting conversions in the form of email subscribers, donations, and other goals?

2) Lagging Indicator: good old-fashioned fundraising goals: For most nonprofits, fundraising isn’t a choice; without revenue, your organization cannot be or do all that it needs. When we partner with a nonprofit, one of the first things we do is set realistic fundraising benchmarks. These include both the total dollar amount raised and the number of new donors. For us, it’s very simple—if our clients aren’t seeing an increase in fundraising, we haven’t succeeded. (Fun fact: In 2020 alone, we helped our partners raise over $100 million in new donations.) 

Most nonprofit leaders are focused on lagging indicators (revenue) when they should be paying closer attention to leading indicators. Think about it like a furniture store. If the store wants to see an increase in sales revenue (lagging indicator), it will need to get more people browsing its showroom inventory (leading indicator). What does it mean if the store gets more visitors but doesn’t experience an increase in sales? It means it needs to take a hard look at what it is selling and how it is trying to sell it.

Based on our experience, we expect Roundtree clients to recoup their financial investment in the first year and then see sustained year-over-year growth. Of course, marketing is just one component of growth. There are a number of other external and internal factors that can impact the pace of progress.


On the qualitative side, there are a number of ways we evaluate marketing success. 

1) Multi-purposing content: Is the content on your site read and shared on other platforms—blogs, social media, websites, etc.? Does each piece of content apply best practices for its particular medium? For example, do your videos on social media have subtitles?

2) Modern UX principles: Does your website use modern UX principles to make the user’s experience intuitive? Are people calling or emailing because they can’t find things? Another way of putting it is, does your site look like it was created in the 21st century? Hint: You know it when you see it.

3) Donor referrals: You know your donor communications are resonating when your current donors like to share it with their friends and circle of influence. How many new donors are coming to you through referrals from current donors? The ideal for any nonprofit is to turn your donors into ambassadors.

At the end of the day, what gets measured is what gets improved. If you haven’t created a system for measuring your marketing efforts, chances are you’re not getting the results you need. 

Tired of not knowing whether your marketing is working or not? 

Shoot us an email at [email protected]. We’d love to help you take your nonprofit to the next level through smart marketing focused on results.


P.O. Box 2541
Chattanooga, TN 37409

[email protected]

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