Retention? Enough Already!

Ellen Cobb Church

Ellen Cobb Church

Whoa! Wait … what? Put down your pitchfork — no one's saying it's unimportant.

Before you let the next person into your life who wants to sell you the latest and greatest silver bullet that will increase your retention rates, please do yourself a favor and just say “no.”

Don’t get me wrong — I prioritize optimizing retention rates as much as the next fundraiser. But I’m sick and tired of all of the money nonprofits throw away on the newest, best, magical survey, model, theory or sales pitch that comes their way. A lot of folks are in a frenzy about declining retention rates — and many of them make a living trying to keep the rest of us in a continued state of turmoil over comparing our retention rates to the nonprofit across the street or the person sitting next to us at the conference we’re attending.

We get it — retention rates as a whole could be better, and increasing retention is an easy sell. Who doesn’t want to increase their retention? We read about it. We talk about it. We watch people wring their hands over it.

The funny thing is, a lot of the cures I have read about or heard people talking about don’t have ROI attached to them. (I believe retention starts with your acquisition and acknowledgment programs, but that’s for another column.) Many of the things you’re hearing about or being sold on are most likely just promises of things that will happen if you:

  • Ask your donors (via a costly survey) why they no longer give to your organization. (News flash: Most of them will say they do give to you — even if their last gifts were four years ago); or
  • Ask your donors (via a costly survey) how much they love you — or not; or
  • Ask your donors (via a costly survey) what they think of your program work and how you should prioritize it. (Are you really going to radically change your core programs or mission if you find out your donors aren’t that into them? If you’re not willing to do that, don’t waste time or money asking the question.); or
  • Overlay expensive demographics on your file so you can determine how many donors you have who wear purple shirts when they make donations to charities that begin with the letter “W,” how many of your female donors are rock collectors and how many of your male donors over 55 eat plums; or
  • Contact donors less frequently; or
  • Don’t ask for money.

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