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How Nonprofits Can Set (And Meet) Fundraising Goals

16 min read
September 13, 2022
Alex Huntsberger
a dart board with 4 darts stick into it, one of them is a bullseye

Any successful nonprofit fundraising campaign starts with a goal. By setting a realistic but ambitious fundraising goal, your team can start building a campaign that will reach that target number. Without one, your nonprofit won’t have any real measures by which to judge its fundraising performance. That lack of data will hurt future efforts.

But setting a goal is a far more complex process than picking a nice round number out of thin air. Here are the steps that your nonprofit can take—starting with research into your nonprofit’s past, present, and future—to set a fundraising goal that serves your organization’s needs and sets your fundraisers up for success.

Prepare for Goal-Setting by Doing Your Homework

Before you begin the process of goal-setting, you first need to dive into your nonprofit’s past, present and future. You’ll use your research to determine the cost of the program you’re funding as well as your donor base’s capacity to give. 

Assess Your Past Fundraising Performance

Look at your fundraising and financial data from the past several years to determine your nonprofit’s needs, past successes, and challenges. 

Your nonprofit’s needs include items like overhead (rent, bills, salaries, etc.) as well as the cost of your programs. Don’t forget to include the cost of your fundraising efforts themselves! If your strategic vision imagines your programs growing or expanding in coming years, past data will help you sketch out the added costs of that growth and the amount of funds you’ll need to raise to support it. 

Your nonprofit’s successes and challenges are twofold: They include the success or failure of programs and fundraising campaigns. If a program to build affordable housing for unsheltered families was a rousing success, your nonprofit might want to focus on expanding it while shuttering a less successful program. And, if your online fundraising efforts have proven far more successful than in-person events, you should consider pivoting your next campaign to digital channels.

What Are Your Present Circumstances?

While past performance will heavily inform your fundraising goals, so should your present circumstances. Are there any circumstances in the here and now that could impede or accelerate your nonprofit’s work and, by extension, your ability to fundraise?

Factors that could affect your fundraising goals include the gain or loss of a grant or major donor, an economic downturn or national disaster, a recent piece of legislation or upcoming election, and a change in leadership at your organization. While you can’t always predict how present circumstances will affect your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts, it is always good to be clear-eyed about the situation in which you find yourself.

What’s the Future of Your Nonprofit?

Easy peasy, right? Your fundraising priorities are your nonprofit’s priorities. They shape your past, present, and future. The money you are raising will go to support your organization’s vital work. If that work is expanding in the future, your fundraising will have to expand to support it. 

Talk with your nonprofit’s leadership about their plans for the future. Together, you can use those plans and conversations to sketch out a strategic vision that will guide how your nonprofit wants to grow and evolve in the future. If your nonprofit lacks a plan for its future, you’ll find it difficult to define what your long-term fundraising goals should be. 

Even if a future plan does not directly affect your current campaigns, there are still ways you can take action now to make your job easier in the future. If there is a large capital campaign planned for a future date, beginning to cultivate potential large donors now will help. If there you are planning new programs, you can begin to identify which segments of your donor base would potentially support them. This is one area where it won’t hurt you to be over-prepared.

Talk (and Listen) to Your Donors

So much work goes into the quantitative aspects of fundraising prep—looking at last year’s numbers and projecting out this year’s, digging into email open and conversion rates—that it can be easy to overlook the qualitative factors. A great appeal or a particularly inspiring program can matter just as much to your fundraising success as improving your donation page conversion rate.

While you are planning your fundraising goals, make sure you reach out to current donors to discuss their experiences and solicit their input. To do this en masse, you can send out a donor survey, or—better yet—send out different surveys to your different donor segments to gather more specific feedback. With larger donors, an in-person meeting or phone call would be best.

Your donors are the engine of your nonprofit. If you aren’t listening to them carefully and soliciting their input, you’re far more likely to miss the mark with your next campaign.

Set a Fundraising Goal by Answering These Four Questions

A sign on a hill that reads "Answers, one kilometer" with an arrow pointing to the left.
A sign on a hill that reads "Answers, one kilometer" with an arrow pointing to the left.

With a strategic vision, the numbers behind your past fundraising performance, plus an assessment of your current circumstances and reams of donor feedback as a guide, you are now ready to start building your fundraising goals. 

Overall,  fundraising can be an annual goal that covers many different needs and campaigns, or it can be an overall goal specific to one campaign. Either way, you will want to answer the same four basic questions: 

  • What do we want to do? 
  • How much do we need? 
  • How much do we have? 
  • What can our donors give?

What Do We Want to Do?

Every fundraising goal is tied to a specific need, even if that need is general, like bolstering your nonprofit’s annual fund. This is where your strategic vision will come into play. Lay out in clear terms the ins and outs of the program you are looking to fund. Not only will this help you determine the dollar amount that you need to raise, but it will help you craft your appeals later on.

How Much Do We Need?

Ultimately, the answer to this question will be a simple dollar amount. But the process you’ll undergo to identify that amount will be more complex. Start with your past and work forward. Based on financial data from previous years, you can determine how much it costs to execute any given program. Make sure to factor in the costs of overhead, inflation, and your fundraising activities. If you are raising money for your annual fund, you can take a more holistic view of your nonprofit’s work and future goals.

How Much Do We Have?

Setting a budget for your fundraising campaign means accounting for money, time, and staffing power. You don’t want to set a budget that requires your staffers to run themselves ragged. It’s important to understand the costs associated with different fundraising channels. Direct mail is far more expensive than email, for example, so you might want to limit those appeals to larger asks. If you believe a fundraising goal might be too ambitious after you’ve evaluated your staff’s capacity, you’ll need to reassess.

What Can Our Donors Give?

This is where prospect and donor research—-including wealth screenings—-will come in handy. You don’t want to ask for more than your donor base can reasonably give. You can parse your existing donors’ data to assess their capacity and engagement. It’s especially helpful if you have a donor management system with the tools you need to analyze giving trends within your base. If you have a donor base of 7,000 donors who give, on average, $50 each, you probably shouldn’t set the goal of raising $1 million in your next campaign. For prospective donors whose given patterns aren’t immediately available to you, a wealth screening can give you the idea of their giving capacity to inform your approach.

Don’t Forget: Set Some Non-Financial Fundraising Goals, Too

Not all fundraising goals have to be in dollars! The most common type of non-financial fundraising goal is to acquire a set amount of new donors. While the cost of acquiring new donors can be high, a plan to turn those new donors into returning or recurring donors—-with the potential to increase their donation amounts down the line—-will set your nonprofit up for long-term success.

It doesn’t have to be either/or. You can set non-financial fundraising goals in conjunction with dollar-based goals. In fact, if you are running a larger campaign or building annual goals for your organization, you should set some non-financial goals. Increasing your total donor base or setting a goal to have X% of donors give at a certain level allows you to broaden your engagement. 

Don’t let a focus on dollar amounts lead you down the road of relying too heavily on major donors. Sure, major donors are a critical pillar of your fundraising efforts. But small donors matter too! A large base of small donors will make your organization more resilient, but continued donations represent a real commitment to your mission!

To learn more about the importance of small donors, check out our blog post, The Power of Small Donations: Why They Should Matter To Your Nonprofit.

Make Sure Your Fundraising Goal is S.M.A.R.T

two hands holding a nearly finished rubiks cube
two hands holding a nearly finished rubiks cube

Once you have entered the four questions listed above, you should have an overall fundraising goal you want to reach. Now it’s time to make sure your goal is S.M.A.R.T. In other words, your fundraising goal needs to be:



Attainable (and/or Ambitious)




All the work you’ve done up until now will help you make your fundraising goal specific. Always employ a set number. Whether that number of dollars raised, a percentage increase over the last year, or a certain number of new donors, write the number down and stick to it. It’s nearly impossible to execute a coherent strategy if your overall goal is vague.


This goes hand in hand with specificity. If your goal is specific, you will have a way to measure it. If your goal is raising $20,000, you will know you’re halfway to your goal once you’ve reached $10,000. Before your campaign begins, look for other nonprofit KPIs you can use to measure success. Aiming for a certain email open rate, donation page conversion rate, or average donation size will help you tweak and improve your tactics as you go.

Want to learn more about how your nonprofit’s email performance measures up? Check out Neon One’s 2023 Nonprofit Email Report! This comprehensive report surveyed 37,472 email campaigns sent by 1,495 Neon One clients, both large and small. In it you’ll find troves of data and recommendations covering nonprofit email benchmarks like send times, open and clickthrough rates, subject lines, and more!

Attainable (and/or Ambitious)

Attainable and Ambitious are not opposite traits. In fact, the best fundraising goals are both. Your fundraising goal should be as ambitious as possible while still being attainable. There’s no formula you can employ to reach that number, but the more data and research you have, the better off you’ll be. If you can point to previous years’ performance and strategic takeaways to determine that your goal of a 20% increase in annual fundraising is attainable, you will give everyone on your team the confidence to go out there and make it happen.


You are raising funds for a purpose. Make sure that this purpose is explicitly laid out in your goal-setting. If you fed 5,000 hungry kids last year and this year you want to feed 7,000—with a fundraising goal to match—then state that alongside your dollar figure. Not only will this help your team craft their appeals and your donors connect with your nonprofit’s mission, but it also serves as a good gut check. If you cannot clearly state the reason you are raising this money, you need to go back to the drawing board.


In fundraising, deadlines are your friend. Not only will setting a deadline help you plan out your campaign and measure your progress, but it will also help motivate your donors. If you are close to hitting your goal but you have only two days left, you can send messages emphasizing those points and donors will respond. Every fundraising should have a date that it starts and a date that it ends. Otherwise, your campaign will just end up dragging on…and on…and on.

Break Your Goal Down Into Gift Sizes

A pile of neatly wrapped gifts in black, gold, and gray wrapping paper. The gifts are of varying sizes.
A pile of neatly wrapped gifts in black, gold, and gray wrapping paper. The gifts are of varying sizes.

Once you have determined your topline fundraising goal, it’s time to break that goal down into individual gift sizes. There will be a small number of big gifts, a larger number of mid-level gifts, and an even larger number of small gifts. By breaking your overall goal into gift sizes, you can know how many of each kind of gift you have to secure in order to reach your topline number.

This is where digging into your past fundraising data will be crucial. Instead of picking aspirational numbers out of the air, you’ll be able to state with a high degree of certainty how many gifts of each size you’ll be able to secure. In fact, creating a gift size chart that segments your existing donors can be a very useful exercise when creating your overall goal in the first place. You might even realize that, based on past performance, you will be able to raise more than you thought you could!

Gift sizes will help you include pre-set gift amounts on your donation form, which always comes in handy. A donor who was thinking about giving a $15 gift will often up their gift amount to $20 if that option is pre-selected for them on your donation form. Of course, you’ll always want to give donors the option of selecting their own gift amount. You don’t want to lose out on $15 because you set your minimum gift amount at $20.

Neon CRM comes with easy-to-build donation forms with a whole library of drag-and-drop templates and best practices already built-in. To learn more about our donation forms, check out the article below.

Build a Future Goal-Setting Process

Fundraising is a year-round sport for nonprofits. And the more processes you have in place, the easier it will be to regularly set and reevaluate your goals. You’ll not only save time, but you’ll also save your staff a lot of stress, too.

Everything we have laid out above gives you the fundamentals for building a fundraising goal-setting process. But the process that will ultimately work best is one that’s specific to your nonprofit and your team. As you build out your fundraising goals, document all the steps that you take. Make particular note of how long each task took, which elements proved successful, and which proved not-so-successful. 

Once you have wrapped up your goal-setting, set some time aside for a “post-mortem.” Despite the slightly ghoulish name, this is a very helpful practice. During a post-mortem, your fundraising team gets together and looks back over the entire process. You discuss what worked and what didn’t and create takeaways for where you can improve moving forward.

Last, take what you learned in your post-mortem and use it to create a fundraising goal-setting process. Make this process document available to all your staff—especially new hires. When goal-setting time comes around again, your staff will be able to look at this document and know exactly what’s expected of them, when their deadlines are, and what best practices they should employ.

Resources to Help You Meet Your Fundraising Goal

When it comes to meeting (and exceeding) your fundraising goals, there is no silver bullet. Fundraising requires a ton of hard work, weeks or months of careful conversations, and the finely-tuned sense of when persistent outreach crosses the line and becomes just plain annoying. 

That having been said, there are still tons of strategies and resources you can employ to help your campaign succeed. Check out some of these articles, guides, and templates from Neon One that will take your fundraising game to the next level:

You Can Set Better Fundraising Goals

A fundraising campaign that has a vague or poorly-thought-out goal is going to have a hard time making it across the finish line. 

In order to set a reasonable yet ambitious goal for your team, you first need to do your homework by researching past performance and talking to your donors. Using S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting principles, you can ensure your entire team is set up for success. By documenting your steps along the way, you can create a formal goal-setting process that saves you from having to reinvent the wheel with each new campaign. 

Your nonprofit’s donor management system can provide a lot of help throughout your goal-setting process if it has the right features and capabilities. Neon CRM is an all-in-one donor management platform with all the tools and integrations that your fundraising team could ask for.

If you want to learn more about Neon One, join us for a group demo! These regularly scheduled, 30-minute sessions will give you a good idea of what Neon CRM’s tools can do for your organization, including its email builder, donation forms, fundraising dashboards, customizable reports, moves management, and more. Click below to sign up!

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