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Using Fundraising Thermometers for Your School’s Development Campaigns

Julie Chomiak | 5 min read

When you’re responsible for a fundraising campaign, from the annual fund to a major capital endeavor, designing new ways to excite your constituents and stimulate gift giving can be challenging. However, as technology begins to play a more critical role in fundraising efforts, schools have more options for helping them reach their campaign goals. One of the best tactics for tracking gifts, showing donor appreciation, and getting those spur-of-the-moment gifts is to use a fundraising thermometer.

Not familiar with this technology? Don’t worry! We’ve done the research for you and from this article, you’ll learn what a fundraising thermometer is, how it can positively impact your school’s fundraising strategy, and how to build a top-notch thermometer for your school.

What is a fundraising thermometer?

First things first: what is a fundraising thermometer? A fundraising thermometer is a visual representation of a specific fundraising campaign that indicates your school’s progress toward its goal. Much like a regular thermometer, a fundraising thermometer’s level increases as gifts are received and your fund’s total nears its target.

Image: Yuma Catholic's Day of Giving thermometerYuma Catholic's Day of Giving thermometer

Above, Yuma Catholic High School used a fundraising thermometer to track its Day of Giving gifts and progress toward its $50,000 goal. Fundraising thermometers typically include total dollars received, what percentage they are to the goal, and the number of donors.

Why are fundraising thermometers effective?

1. Real-time updates indicate progress toward goals

Fundraising thermometers clearly convey your fundraising goals to your community. While your team may have sent direct mail, email messages, and posted to your social media accounts about your various campaigns, it doesn’t mean your constituents remember what your goals are.

Image: Collegiate School's Annual Fund thermometerCollegiate School's Annual Fund thermometer

With a thermometer, members of your community can easily access fundraising goals and see the most up-to-date information when it comes to your school’s progress. Perhaps the most important function of a fundraising thermometer is that it updates automatically so it reflects gifts as they are received. Continual additions to a fundraising thermometer give constituents a sense of action, which can be inspirational and generate on-the-spot gifts. Fundraising thermometers create a sense of transparency, which donors appreciate as fundraising efforts can sometimes seem muddy to those outside of your development office.

2. Helps motivate volunteers and keeps them in action

Fundraising thermometers also serve as a motivational tactic for your volunteers. Capital fundraising can be a long process, but when volunteers can check in and see incremental increases toward the goal, it keeps them connected to their efforts and the campaign. Again, the visual element of a fundraising thermometer inspires action and makes volunteers, donors, and your board members feel as though their efforts are paying off.

Image: Thomas Jefferson High School's capital campaign thermometerThomas Jefferson High School's capital campaign thermometer

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology used a fundraising thermometer to indicate progress toward its $8 million partnership fund. $8 million is a huge number and difficult for people to wrap their heads around, but with the tracker, it made the donations real and the proximity to completion tangible. It undoubtedly was a useful resource for volunteers and development staff alike in reaching their tremendous target.

3. Encourages various constituencies to give

Ultimately, your school is trying to generate gifts from as many people as possible. Fundraising thermometers act as a tool to spur donations from your numerous constituencies. The visual representation of your efforts gives donors and prospects a glimpse into the status of your fundraising efforts and can encourage impulse donations. Studies have shown that, “the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual,” meaning your constituents are more likely to remember and be impacted by a thermometer graphic than just text alone.

Another benefit is that donors can see the immediate impact of their gifts on the thermometer. Watching the thermometer rise after making an online gift provides instant gratification and a sense of accomplishment. You want every donor to feel appreciated, and this is a simple way to do that without adding more to your team’s to-do list

Tips for creating an effective fundraising thermometer

1. Ensure all gifts made to the specific fund are reflected in the thermometer

As mentioned above, having an up-to-date fund total is crucial when using a fundraising thermometer. There are a variety of ways to give (mailed checks, gifted stock, online donations, etc.) and having a comprehensive and accurate representation of your progress toward goal is a necessity. At the bare minimum, ensure your online donations are reflected immediately and update the thermometer with other gifts received - from mailed checks or wire transfers - once a day.

2. Add a donor list to the fundraising thermometer webpage

People are often inspired by other’s giving, so by having a complete list of fund donors scrolling next to or below your thermometer means you’re likely to receive more impulse gifts. Also, people love seeing their name in print and being recognized in this way makes them feel good about their giving.

Image: Hoboken Charter School's annual fund donor wallHoboken Charter School's annual fund donor wall

Hoboken Charter School has a dedicated page for their annual fund donors that indicates name and donor level, which is updated throughout the year. Essentially, it’s an early draft of their annual report that thanks donors for giving early and, just as importantly, reminding others that they have yet to give.

Now that you know what a fundraising thermometer is and how it can benefit your school, what are you waiting for? You can easily add a thermometer to your fundraising webpages to engage your community, provide real-time updates, and receive more donations. Contact us today and we’ll get your fundraising thermometer up and running in no time.

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Written By

Julie Chomiak

Julie is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Before becoming a full-time writer, she spent nearly ten years fundraising for non-profits and private schools, where she focused on alumni annual giving. She loves sharing her insights and helping schools improve their advancement efforts in service of fulfilling their missions of improving each child’s life.