A Replacement for the Dreaded Fundraising Thermometer?

I've never really understood what thermometers have to do with fundraising anyway, other than the idea of something rising, which is a pretty weak link.

[Update: We've released a free e-book based on this post, including graphics of alternatives to thermometers.]

I’m not  fan of those fundraising thermometers. Yes, they are an easy way to show progress, but they are so overused. And when you think about it, what does a thermometer and temperature rising have to do with 99% of the causes that use that graphic: nothing!

So when Luke Reynebeau, a student board member and program coordinator for the University of Minnesota YMCA, sent me this email, I thought, “Yes! Here is a great example we can use to rid ourselves of thermometers for good!”

Here is Luke’s question . . .

“I am currently in the middle of creating that dreaded campaign status report for our donors and alumni, and am stuck in a rut – I can’t find a way to visually represent where we are at in our annual giving campaign in a compelling way.  The thermometer, for me, is not an option, and I don’t want to compromise our logo, seeing as the Y just rebranded and wants to maintain the strength of the brand (and they explicitly say we cannot manipulate the logo).

Any thoughts?  Have you run into this problem, too?”

I suggested that Luke focus on what the money would be used for, and building a graphic around that. Since it was the Y, I suggested filling up a swimming pool or some other icon that people associate with that particular Y.

But then Luke replied . . .

“The UY solely does community service and outreach – we provide service opportunities for college students (tutoring, mentoring, college readiness classes, service-learning trips, internships, etc.). That’s what makes the image issue even tougher.  Our activity is a bit more abstract – we don’t necessarily have a physical representation of what we do (sadly, no pool or gym at our branch).”

So that’s when I offered to punt to you, the Nonprofit Marketing Guide community, full of very creative nonprofit minds.

What can Luke use to visually represent progress in his fundraising campaign, besides the dreaded thermometer?

Today’s Book Giveaway

Leave a suggestion for Luke in the comments below, and you’ll be entered to win a free copy of  “Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications” by Sarah Durham. We’ll draw the winner next week, so you have plenty of time to add your ideas.

I’m giving away a book each day this week, in celebration of the one year anniversary of my own book’s release, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause (on sale for $23.29 at Amazon).

  • http://twitter.com/RonSly Ron Sly

    My org doesn’t fund raise, and I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I am interested in what people come up with. Could we have a digest post sometime in the future? If I think of anything I will post!

  • JB

    If you have plenty of quality photos use a 10X10 grid of empty blocks and add a photo of one of the people helped by your services for every 1% of money raised. Or maybe some sort of spiral with a heart in the center filling in the empty spaces from the heart outward. You could use a from the heart, it begins with heart or reaching out angle.

  • Matt

    Since your branch revolves around the University of Minnesota and students there, could you somehow manipulate the University of Minnesota logo (or something iconic associated with the school) to visually represent your progress? It depends on context and execution, but you could probably do it without creating confusion about what you’re raising money for or disassociating the fundraising effort from UY. First example that comes to mind is maybe a the Golden Gopher holding a flag with the Y logo or something like that.

  • Lane Phalen

    How about a book? Turn a page to show progress and have a new message on every page.

  • Benm

    Perhaps you could develop an Icon depicting people in service (foot on shovel, hammer raised, mentor/mentee at a table, etc), or if you’ve had a successful project in the past you could make it into a progress-meter (trees planted in a row, student’s head filling with knowledge, seats at a table).

    Good luck!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shayne.squires1 Shayne Squires

    A growing “tree of knowledge”  – books could be added, components of what they use to help people learn…get to college, road to a better future, etc.  It’s all about growth –

  • http://www.facebook.com/shayne.squires1 Shayne Squires

    A “Tree of Kowledge” that keeps growing – books, people, learning, road to a better future – all of the components that you use to help people learn, prepare for college…Stepping stones – eacha  piece to moving forward… 

  • http://twitter.com/kmartone Kevin Martone

    Following up with what Lane mentioned, I was thinking a stack of books growing as funds are raised.

    It sounds like there are classroom-related services as well, so maybe have a classroom filling up with students/mentorees as funds are raised?

    Anything to visualize the impact of the program and the impact of the funds coming in.


  • Susanna

    Hi Luke:  I’m with ‘JB’ – the ‘Y’ is all about people!  How about a pic of a huge crowd (if a photo shoot of a large number isn’t practical, you can substitute a generic stock shot)?   Get your graphics person to ‘fade out’ the image so that the people are visible but faint.   As donations are received bring each individual image back into full-colour focus. The more $$ received, the more the people shot ‘comes alive’.  You can explain that donations are all about helping real people…

    Good luck!

  • http://twitter.com/KSuzJ Kristin Johnson

    Since you’re offering somewhat of a “helping hand” could you have two hands holding each other and fill it up thermometer style? Might be too United Way-like, however it could convey what you do a bit better.

  • http://www.kilgoretogether.ning.com Donna

    My first thought is kids climbing a ladder.  Remember the kids colorform games where you could stick and remove rooms, doll clothes, etc?  Maybe something of that nature where you can add kids to a ladder – example of 1 kid per $1000 or whatever your goal might be.  Also, going out in the community.  Picture a square google-maps type representation of their city or neighborhood.  Every $1000 (or whatever number) in donations spreads across the city.  Start with a basic compass circle in the middle and grow by 1/2 inch for every $1000 until the goal is reached and the city is literally covered with their services!

  • Claire

    I like all the ideas about people. Like the group photo with images coming into view or the blocks, like JB suggests.  Like a great, big Brady Bunch graphic, but instead of Alice and Greg we see a tutor and a young student. Nice visuals!

  • Arya

    What about a image of an empty desk that slowly starts to fill up with different objects as the donations roll in. The objects are symbol of a project the Y takes part in, with their order being determined by how much the current donation can offer to pay for:

    - Tutoring: Place a calendar on the table with dates filled in with “Math Lesson with Lesley”
    - Mentoring: A basketball appears on the table with a yellow sticky on it from a mentor saying “See you this afternoon!”
    - College Readiness Classes: SAT prep cue cards
    - Trips: Plane tickets/photos in the field
    - Internships: a cover letter and CV ready to be mailed out

    To convey the gap in funding, you could have the objects that aren’t on the table on the side of the image with the header “What’s are we missing?”

  • http://the-new-professional.blogspot.com Angeline

    We also deal in intangibles (higher education) so we did a flash graphic with a graduate. Another option we explored were filling up a lecture hall with students (each student representing $x raised).

    Here’s our current graphic.

  • http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog Kivi Leroux Miller

    So many great ideas, so quickly! Thanks everyone (and keep them coming)!

  • Lexie

    A people-graphic pyramid, start filling in from the bottom with the pinnacle being the goal (or exceeding the goal)

  • Ana

    I am thinking that Luke could take the “Y” and fill up the top v section of the Y until it is full. The Y could take on a character, like a student with his or her arms stretched out. Luke could do the same with the “U” in filling the interior of the “U” symbol up to the rim (top tips of the U).

  • http://twitter.com/mrwweb Mark Root-Wiley

    There are some great ideas here.  I agree with everyone mentioning using an image of people to represent the community surrounding, supporting, and assisted by the Y.

    My only addition is that I wonder if you could add an extra layer of creativity by filling the graphic in a non-linear way.  Maybe you break the image into a puzzle and add pieces for every 1%, 2%, or 5% of the fundraising goal.  I suspect that with a bit of good copy about people coming together to
    make something greater than the sum of its parts, you could build up a nice puzzle metaphor. You could maybe even have some pieces showing people and others with
    icons representing the different services. Alternately, maybe it’s a
    large group photo with the Y logo overlayed (adding graphic interest and
    a more interesting completed image).

    Best of luck!

  • http://www.mindframecampaign.org/ Kyle Lacy

    JB’s suggesting and everyone else’s who built off of it sounds great. It could also be a great idea to also add photos of anyone who is donating money. The more they donate, the larger their picture could be. This way, you can recognize and thank the donors while changing up the aesthetics all at the same time.

  • http://www.yellocreative.com Maggie Hall

    This is a very tough question that could require a lot more data to make the best decision. However, here is my 2-minute brainstorming process with no actual idea.

    tutoring + mentoring + college readiness classes + service-learning trips + internships =

    Growth, love, knowledge, success, preparation, intellect, work ethic, philanthropy, travel, journey, mentor =

    The end goal: authenticity, mastery, autonomy =

    The visual = lift, heart, book, tree, journey (pathway)

  • http://twitter.com/ditfoundation DIT Foundation

    How about depicting the progress of the fundraising as a virtual student, progressing through the non-profit’s services. Year 1 etc (with semester / term /month / quarter  milestones ). It could be a smart phone app (and promoted off line) where donors help the virtual student obtain books / mentoring / transport / registration / home support etc. Achieving targets should provide good graphics, cause for celebration and PR generating content for various media. Families, friends, colleagues and the general public could get involved in a novel way. ;)

  • Bmorrison

    college readiness classes – could be represented by an icon going around a board game (think monopoly) with “Start” or “Go” at the beginning and the amount of funding achieved being depicted by how far the icon has got. The finish could be “Enrol at college” or similar…

  • Shelly

    Since your audience is college students, why not create a pyramid of kids. While the foundation of this image would be wider than the top (obviously), meeting the goal is the critical issue. The other point about using an image of kids, is that you will add a human element to your efforts….

    just a thought!


  • Kim

    I’m keeping in mind that Luke wants a graphic to use in a report, so would suggest something simple. I interpret your goal as a helping a young adult be more well-rounded, more whole.   My idea is a shadowed photo image of a young adult (the college student, decide based on demographics what he/she looks like) and the language centers around helping develop the WHOLE person!  The picture comes full-color as the goal is reached.  Maybe your goal is to help these college students decide what they want to do with their life…then start with a blurry photo and bring parts of it into focus.  Language could be more about making everything clear.  So you still have that thermometer element that people understand, but it’s just a bit different enough to set you apart.

    That’s all I got!

  • AP

    How about making it a silhouette of a couple of kids with a college campus background that can be colored in as funds come in? Or, make it a game. Get some college students to pose for a picture and then turn it into a jigsaw puzzle. For every designated dollar amount a new piece is added to the puzzle. People can even make guesses as to what the picture is going to be. This way there’s an end result.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jshatan Jeremy Shatan

    My idea was more prosaic but I will share it anyway! Since many of their services revolve around education, it’s an easy translation to represent that with a stack of books that grows as the donations increase.

  • Rcarey

    If I understand what it is that the UY does, then it should be a path leading from the University out into the community.  The board game Candyland comes to mind.  Instead of Molasses Swamp, maybe it’s a representation of one of the high schools or locations that they offer the college readiness classes. 

  • http://www.uymn.org Luke Reynebeau

    Wow!  There are a lot of great comments here.  Thanks to everybody!  Our most important assets are our people – our student leaders who are engaged in the community.  We are going to take a look at our options and capabilities and create something MUCH more exciting than a thermometer.  Thanks!

  • http://www.uymn.org Luke Reynebeau

    A lot of these ideas are great and inspired us to look at how we show our campaign status digitally.  Like someone had noticed, this particular problem was for our printed newsletter, so we don’t have as much flexibility and cannot make something as interactive as we would like.  But all these ideas is making us reconsider our current approach, and possibly use a different graphic for our giving online page.

  • http://www.uymn.org Luke Reynebeau

    This  is great!  We are looking into an app as well – a way to stay connected with what is going on, but also to give to certain program (giving books, funding a mentorship, buying equipment for our childhood obesity fighting program, etc.)

  • http://ZappNonprofitBlog.com Karen

    - Stack of books growing
    - Seats in a classroom filling up
    - No.2 yellow pencils – progressively construct an old-fashioned one-room school house with them like a “house of cards”
    That’s what comes to mind off the top of my head – Karen Zapp, nonprofit copywriter

  • Elaine Thomas

    I have read alot of the comments – WOW awesome creativity – I will throw out one more…since you are more service oriented…how about a collage/montage mosaic of hands and/or feet.
    the image of the hands outline – could be the shape of your state city – so the hands will be greyed until funded…once funded perhaps it is a color or an image w/ impact story…the Y is all about impact stories and I am sure you have them…lead with stories

  • http://www.melindamckee.com Melinda McKee

    Luke – well, the idea I had turns out to be pretty similar to Rcarey’s……I thought of a road map or trail map of sorts (a la a life map on which you’re helping students along), with icons along the road representing the services you mentioned……with a progression of shoe prints (or a little car puttering along?) showing how far down the path the campaign has come.

    Kivi – there are so many great ideas here, seems like an ongoing “idea pool” for crowdsourcing solutions to other tricky issues could be a great thing! ;-) (I know, that’s what that Facebook group was meant for back in the day, right….it didn’t quite pan out I guess?..)

  • Luke Reynebeau

    Melinda – thanks for the idea!  I have been messing with some graphics for a “trail” from either the “Y” logo or the University of Minnesota logo, leading to the Twin Cities (our outreach into the community).  I think this might work for us.

    This is a great lesson about crowdsourcing for me, and something that I can show to co-workers – hey, it really does work to find great new ideas!

  • Cshopen

    Use the left (non-triangle) part of the Y from the logo as the gauge and the first part of the phrase “Y Not Help?” and/or “Y Yes, I will help!”  As the campaign begins, consider starting to fill that part of the Y (from the bottom) with relevant images, possibly of people who have been helped (assuming the Y can be opened in a link that can is large enough they can be distinguished), until the goal is met, at which time the Y should be full.  Tell people what you are doing and encourage them to check back and give a little more as you near the goal. 

  • http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/blog Kivi Leroux Miller

    Thanks everyone for the great ideas here! I’m working with Julia Reich, a great designer and one of our guest bloggers, and producing some sample visuals to go along with your ideas. More soon!

  • Anonymous

    a seed + plant growing until it becomes a tree

  • Anonymous

    or have the ‘Y’ become an image populated of many images with the pictures of those who donated.

  • Schoolfu

    An issue Luke needs to be careful with is not to lose the message of of promoting the fundraising progress. It’s good to be creative, but there is a problem with getting too creative and having the message is lost. There’s a reason the fundraising thermometer works and is the main tool used in showing a fundraiser’s progress. I like the suggestions of getting creative with the “Y”. Maybe having a large Y, but I think he will still need to show the $ progress somewhere on the “Y”.

    I would say stick with the original thermometer. Just for full disclosure, my organization provides a free fundraising thermometer widget http://www.school-fundraisers.com/fundraising-thermometer.php so I’m a bit biased towards fundraising thermometers. But I understand Luke’s dilemma and wish him the best!

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