“I’m disgusted and frustrated. You should be, too.”

With those words, Michael Rosen launched his post What are the Obstacles to Improving Donor-Retention Rates?

“Once again, the already horrible existing-donor and new-donor retention rates in the USA have further declined, according to the 2016 Donor Retention Report issued recently as part of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Urban Institute Fundraising Effective Project.”

Like many of us concerned with retention and growing weary of preaching on the subject month after month, Michael metaphorically threw up his hands:

“It’s your turn now,” he told his readers and asked them to share their thoughts on why the sector seems unable to slay the dragon of attrition.

Here are the key questions Michael posed:

  • What major obstacles do you face at your nonprofit organization when it comes to increasing donor retention?
  • While it would be bad enough if donor retention rates simply did not improve and merely remained in place, what is driving the numbers steadily downward?
  • Do you know the retention numbers for your organization? If not, why not?
  • What would it take to improve your organization’s retention rates, and why aren’t you doing it?

Fortuitously, and in yet another heroic effort to roll the Retention Rock up the hill, within few days after Michael’s post, a ton of practical, easy-to-implement answers rolled off the press in the form of Jay Love’s Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.

Whatever excuse folks might have for failure to deal with their retention problem, ‘ignorance’, ‘complexity’ or ‘expense’ should not be among them.

Stay Together is a retention cookbook that will benefit every fundraiser and their colleagues — from those who can’t boil water to the more sophisticated practitioners.

Before I tell you about this ‘must buy’, ‘must read’ gem, let me tell you about the book’s author. Jay is one of the few fundraising pioneers who, decade after decade, keeps on breaking new ground.

This is the veteran who developed  eTapestry two decades ago when ‘online’ was an infant and CRM was an unfamiliar acronym … then helped parent AFP’s Fundraising Effectiveness Project … and in recent years the CRM named Bloomerang with a whole bunch of retention features built in.

No one has spent more years in the trenches and in the pulpit putting into practice usable information and inexpensive tools to grow the garden of retention and donor engagement than Jay.

Now he is making those insights available to everyone in Stay Together. And all in a fun-to-read, practical guide that anyone can put to immediate use. And all for just $5! No excuses that “it’s too much for our budget”.

In seven fact and guidance-filled Parts, Jay goes from providing the basics of donor relationships — defining, measuring and valuing donor retention — all the way to the clearest explanation of the do’s and don’ts of fundraising software and an explanation of the data that really matter for retention.

To put all this together Jay has drawn on his decades of experience and coupled his own with the experience and insights of a team he’s assembled that includes Adrian Sargeant, Tom Ahern, Claire Axelrad,
 Terry Axelrod, Ken Burnett, Kristina Carlson, Bob Carter,
 Jen Chang, Roger Craver,  Keith Curtis,  Amy Eisenstein,  Jim Greenfield,  Ted Grossnickle, Pamela Grow, Gene Henderson, Steve Jacobson, Jeff Jowdy, Simone Joyaux, Todd Katz, Jamie Levy, Chuck Longfield, Harvey McKinnon, Kivi Leroux Miller, Jerold Panas, and Gail Perry,

I include this fruit salad of practitioners, scholars and graying eminences of our trade because somehow Jay has managed to capture in 170 pages some of the best of their insights and recommendations.

Assuming you’re only driven by bottom line self-interest, you’ll need the basic recipes in this book. As Jay puts it:

“Envision the impact we can make if we all keep our sights on developing more loyal donors. Donors that will stay for the long haul. Donors that can help you make the world a better place.”

And then the financial reasons you must pay attention to retention:

  • If 60% of 1,000 donors don’t stay, only 64 of those donors will be around after 3 years. And only 
10 donors after 5 years.
  • And you don’t have to turn your organization upside down to get there. Even SLIGHT CHANGES CAN LEAD TO SIGNIFICANT RESULTS.

“Let’s say you have a retention rate of 41% and you increased it to 51% over a 10-year-period. You have 5,000 donors who make an average gift of $200 and increase their gift slightly each following year. With a 41% retention rate, your total donations would drop from $451,000 to $722 at the end of that 10-year period. Improve the retention rate to 51%, and you’ll have $5,504 in total donations by the 10th year.

While that’s a mildly impressive difference, you need to examine the lifetime value: At the 41% rate, the lifetime value of those donations totaled $820,859 compared to $1,277,208 for a 51% rate. Now we’re talking about a significant difference.

Throughout Stay Together we’re reminded of Harvey McKinnon’s admonition: “Donor loyalty is not about the donor being loyal to you. It’s about you being loyal to the donor.”

Each section has a “Did you get all that?” summary at the end. It’s probably worth a quick review of those summaries each month to see if you’re on track with retention best-practices.

In addition to alerting you to “Why Donors Don’t Stay” Jay serves up practical, easy-and-inexpensive-to-put-in-place advice. Like:

  • Why poor communications drive donors away and what to do about it
  • The importance of good customer service
  • Developing a Donor Retention Plan
  • 10 Fundraising Software myths you should stomp into the ground.

Stay Together is laden with clever, helpful tips. BUT … it comes with a warning that needs repeating and repeating.

“Unfortunately, many nonprofit fundraisers are so busy with daily tasks that they can barely keep up. And many of them are focused on finding new donors through direct mail, email blasts, special events, and other similar tasks rather than focusing on building relationships with existing donors.

“And, of course, it becomes a vicious cycle. You cannot focus on retaining donors if you’re overwhelmed with the task of getting new donors.” [Emphasis mine.]

Stay Together. Get it. Read it. Put it to work. Today.


P.S. If, after reading Stay Together you don’t agree that its low purchase price is the best $5 you’ve ever spent just drop me a note and I’ll rush a portrait of President Lincoln off to you.



This article was posted in: Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Communications, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Fundraising philosophy/profession, Nonprofit management.
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