The Donor Retention Stats You Need to Know

Final numbers aren’t in yet, but like we saw last year, I bet we set new overall dollar fundraising records in higher ed. But I also think we’re going to see overall participation rates decline. Again.

While we should celebrate the overall growth in giving, we should also be worried about losing donors. The long-term legacy of our schools and nonprofits is at stake; fundraising is as much about the future as it is about the present.

Know Your Rate of Retention

“Donor retention” is a hot concept getting hotter. It’s taking a dive into your data and seeing how many donors remain givers from one year to the next. Start with a list of all your 2013-14 donors and see what percentage gave in 2014-15. That’s your rate of retention.

Know How Your Rate Compares

Nationwide nonprofit retention fell from 50% in 2006 to 43% in 2014. As an industry, we are losing more than half our donor base from one year to the next.

Some stats show higher ed does better at retaining donors, with year-over-year rates nearing 70%. Even still, with that rate of attrition, we face losing half of all our donors in a three-year span.

Where does your rate fall in comparison to national averages? Or compared to the last 10 years of giving at your institution?

Know Your Goal For Next Year

Once you know where you stand and where you’ve been, you know where you need to go: What’s your donor retention goal going to be for FY 2015-16? Up 5%? 10%? Be bold in setting a stretch goal.

Know Why This Is Important

Never mind the very future of your institution—frankly, it’s cheaper and more effective to retain an existing donor than it is to acquire a new one. It costs nearly 6-7 times more to attract a new giver than it does to keep one on your donor roll.

Know Who You’re Trying to Reach

The first-time or re-engaged donors you acquired last year are a special audience. Treat them like it. Instead of looking at their donation as the end of a transaction with a new year ramping up, look at their recent support as just one step in a relationship.

Let’s get creative with the ways we talk to these people in the next 12 months. How many times will we thank them for their support before we ask them to give again? How many ways can you think to engage them in between asks?

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Maybe it’s a phone call from a student, maybe it’s a Facebook ad served only to these select donors, maybe it’s a special invitation to an event, maybe it’s a quarterly update on great things happening because of their support, maybe it’s all of the above.

Whatever the vehicle and however you do it, you need to let these people know that they’re special, that their gift matters, and that we’re counting on them for the future. The more they see the importance of their gift, the more likely they are to give again.

We won’t move forward as an industry unless we figure out donor retention

Data shows that for every $100 we gain from new donors or increased gifts, we lose $92 to donors we don’t retain. We’re treading water, and that isn’t sustainable. Even making small gains in retaining last year’s new gifts next year will propel your annual fund to new heights.

In an industry where participation and retention rates are mostly falling, the easiest way to set your institution apart is to reverse the trend. That can start with focusing on the information you need to drive changes in how we look at engaging and retaining our donors.

Don’t lose any more donors! Learn how EverTrue can help your team track and manage donors with easy-to-use web and mobile software.  


Mike Nagel
is the Associate Director for Advancement Communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. He spends his time managing and creating stories for PEA’s social media, alumni website, email marketing campaigns, and other mostly-digital play spaces. Say hi on Twitter or LinkedIn.