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Calculate your Core Number to make fundraising easier

Knowing what to say to inspire someone to give isn’t easy.

Here’s something that will work every time, even if you aren’t the most articulate person in the world.

With this one number you can take the pressure off of asking for money, because the ask is no longer about you.

What is it?

It’s your Core Number.

Know your Core Number

The days of asking people to give simply because you’re a nonprofit are long gone.

No one wants to give to support your annual fund, help you reach your goals, or help you fund your budget.

Donors don’t care about those things.

What do they care about?

They care about the difference you’re making in the world. They care about the lives you’re changing (or saving).

So, ask them to give an amount that means something.

Here’s where your Core Number comes in.

How to find your Core Number

When you calculate your Core Number, you’ll come up with something that meaningfully represents what your nonprofit does.

And it’s a number that donors will respond to.

So just what is it?

Your Core Number is a calculation that includes ALL your expenses, both direct and indirect and the total number of units of service your nonprofit delivers.

The easiest way to do this is to look at your actual numbers from last year. What were your total expenses? And what was the total number of units of service you delivered?

Total expenses is pretty easy – pull a report from your accounting software of everything you spent during the year.

Units of service can be tricky and you may have to try a couple of times to drill down to the smallest unit. Basically, it’s the smallest piece of the good work your nonprofit does.

For example, an animal shelter may think its unit of service is taking care of one dog. They take care of a dog, feed it, shelter it, and find it a home. That’s what they do, right?

But let’s dig deeper.

If that shelter spent $500,000 last year running their facility (that’s their total cost) and they cared for 3500 dogs during that year, that means if each dog is a unit of service, each unit cost them $142.86

$500,000/3500 dogs = $142.86

How do you think that will work if you ask people to give $142.86? Some might give, but it won’t be an overwhelming response.

Let’s look again and see if there’s a smaller unit of service.

Let’s say that the shelter knows (because they’ve measured it) that the average dog stays 3 weeks (21 days). Let’s divide it out and see what the cost for 1 day of care for 1 dog is:

       $142.86/21 days = $6.80/day.

NOW we’re talking! We’ve just found a Core Number!

Now we can ask donors to give $6.80 to provide food, shelter, veterinary care, and love to a homeless dog for $6.80 a day.

I promise you that donors will respond to that!

You can do multiples to provide other levels for giving:

$6.80 = 1 day

$47.60 = 1 week

$95.20 = 2 weeks

$142.86 = entire stay

Trust me, people will give when you present it this way. This is a tangible, meaningful amount that a donor can visualize and they’ll love writing their check or clicking the donate now button.

Here are some examples of gifts I’ve personally made in the last year that are Core Numbers:

$6.20 to provide a day’s care (shelter, food, veterinary care) for a homeless pet

$8 to provide heartworm preventative to a homeless dog

$12 for a day’s care for a draft horse rescued from a slaughter truck

$28.13 to provide food, tuition, books, and clothes to a child in Africa

$35 to provide food, shelter, and education to an orphan girl in India


By the way, all of these numbers are real. I find it interesting how the human mind works and that for some reason, we like the odd numbers better. An even number feels like it might have been pulled from the air and we may feel tricked that it’s not a real number. For some reason, our minds really like realnumbers and we love the authenticity of knowing someone actually crunched the numbers giving us an honestly represented option.

So, give this a shot. Now is a great time to find your Core Number just in time to use it for the holidays.

Once you find your number, share it in the comments below.

By | 2019-06-30T15:57:13+00:00 November 14th, 2017|Budgets and number crunching, Featured, Fundraising|12 Comments

About the Author:

Sandy shows Founders and leaders of small nonprofits how to fully fund their big vision so they can spend their time changing lives instead of worrying about money. She has helped dozens of small nonprofits go from “nickel-and-dime fundraising” to mastering donor-based fundraising, inspiring their donors to give often and give big.   Learn how to raise the money you need to fund your new nonprofit without begging, doing without, or paying out of your own pocket.   Click here to download our free ebook Fund Your Dream.


  1. Terry Power November 15, 2017 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    WGCA 88.5 fm The Mix’s Core Numbers…

    2016 total expenses: $572,864.79

    Hours of operation 8760 = $65.40 cost per hour to operate
    1/2 hour 17,520 = $32.70 cost per 1/2 hour to operate

    We play 12 songs per hour, give or take.
    That’s 288 songs per day; 105,120 songs per year

    Some Core Numbers…
    Each song cost $5.45
    One hour of or 12 songs… $65.40
    Two hours of or 24 songs… $130.80
    Four hours of or 48 songs… $261.60
    One day of songs… $1,569.60

    • Sandy Rees November 15, 2017 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      Love it Terry! You have some simple numbers to help people understand how they can best help you. I love that $5.45 provides a song which is about 3 minutes of joy for thousands of listeners, right?


  2. Anne April 4, 2018 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Any advice for an organization that does several things and serves several different types of clients/audiences? Does it change the equation if people pay for some of our services (dance classes where students pay tuition)? We’re struggling to get to a single core number that would speak to all of our constituents.

    • Sandy Rees April 4, 2018 at 9:39 am - Reply

      Hi Anne, when you have several very different programs, you may need to calculate your core number per program so as you’re talking to people about a specific program, you have a specific number to share. I’d also try to take a step back and see what all your programs have in common and try to calculate a number across the board. Sometimes it can be done and sometimes it can’t. The more curious you are, the more you’ll find. And the more information you have the better you will be at fundraising.

  3. Davida Rae May 24, 2019 at 2:53 am - Reply

    How do you combine core numbers with a list of benefits the donor gets in exchange for making donations of various levels (ex. donation of $1000 = meet and greet with the dancers, etc.)? Having a lot of trouble trying to do that. ChoreoNova’s core numbers:

    $8.84 can fund a half hour of dancer and studio hire to rehearse.

    $17.68 can fund a full hour of rehearsal.

    $141.43 can fund a whole day of rehearsal.

    $348.43 can fund one minute of completed dance onstage (rehearsal, costumes, props, and music licensing).

    $1200 can fund all rehearsal space hire for “Coupled.”

    $2400 can fund the development of an entire (20+ minute) dance piece to go onstage.

    Benefit increments usually go $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000, etc. and don’t match the core numbers

  4. Davida Rae May 28, 2019 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    Any advice for how to combine using a set of core numbers with various reward levels? Rewards levels usually go $5, $10, $25, $50, $100, $250, $1000, or some such and won’t match odd non-rounded numbers like core numbers. Should the rewards (really thank-you’s) go by core number values instead? I have to say that it looks a bit odd to use core numbers with decimals in them when listing the thank-you’s and I’ve never seen any organization do it that way.

    • Sandy Rees May 30, 2019 at 7:10 pm - Reply

      Hi Davida, I’m not sure what you mean by reward levels. I’m guessing that if someone gives you $x, they get a free something. If you’re going to use your core number in your marketing and asks, I would definitely use that number and multiples for reward levels to keep everything tied together. Remember that most people give to help make something good happen through your nonprofit, not to get something in return. If they’re all about the reward, they’re not truly a donor.

  5. Tim Bryant November 19, 2019 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    This article helped me so much! We teach meditation classes in prison and each two hour class costs about $250 and I wasn’t sure how to get a smaller core number but then you helped me realize that we have 20+people in class so $10 provides a meditation class for an incarcerated person! Thanks

    • Sandy Rees November 20, 2019 at 1:50 am - Reply

      Perfect! $10 for a class that will teach someone how to calm their mind so they can make better choices? That sounds like a bargain!

  6. […] all students have the wherewithal to create fundraising efforts, which can cause a great deal of […]

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