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Recently, I attended the Direct Marketing Association of Washington’s (DMAW) “Lunch & Learn – The Retention Roadmap: The Guide to Converting, Retaining and Reactivating More Donors.

Caity Carver, the CEO of DonorTrends, and Ben Miller, the Chief Analytic Officer of Donor Trends combined their nearly 40 years in the industry to provide some extremely valuable insight for nonprofits on the importance of retaining donors.

In 2016, an average of 99 donors were lost for every donor acquired throughout the direct marketing industry. Carver and Miller stressed over and over again that nonprofit organizations MUST routinely, even monthly, measure their:

  1. Overall donor retention rates,
  2. Repeat donor retention rates, and
  3. New donor retention rates.

Metrics that are not measured cannot be moved, so every nonprofit should be measuring those metrics in order to improve them.

Nonprofit organizations should also remember to benchmark only against their own retention rates, not industry retention rates. If you measure against industry rates, the data will likely be skewed.

Reviewing this data will help nonprofits to know roughly how many donors they can expect to lose and how many they can expect to reactivate during the year.

As part of the evaluation process, nonprofits should determine how much they are willing to spend to convert a donor, retain a donor, and reactivate a lapsed donor.

Here is a short list of “Do’s and Dont’s” when measuring and improving donor retention rates:

  • DON’T try to move retention without measuring it.
  • DON’T set a goal and forget it later.
  • DON’T measure retention only once a year.
  • DO pick up the phone and connect with your donors.
  • DO try and grow your monthly giving file.
  • DO have superior donor service.
  • DO properly identify your target market through thoughtfully examining your data.
  • And last but not least, DO practice smart donor investment and selection.


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