Anyone know your 3 month retention rate?

Published by Anita de Ruijter on

In my first blog ‘Simple Retention Calculation that packs a powerful punch’ I talked about the importance of setting targets that will lead you to grow your supporter base and suggested a way to set those calculations.  In this blog I am focusing on the importance of having the right retention and development team structure that will allow you to reach your targets.  The right targets and the right team are the two fundamental building blocks needed before we start talking strategy and nitty gritty operational aspects.
We know intuitively that retaining our supporters is the hidden gold within our database.  Yet often we don’t know how much additional money we will earn over time if we improve retention in quite the same way that we do when it comes to recruiting new supporters.


In my opinion, part of the reason why it’s a bit woolly has to do with the way our fundraising teams are structured.  Acquisition often has quite well defined team structures with pretty clear objectives and targets.  However when it comes to retention…things seem to drill down pretty quickly into individual programs or channel delivery.  We have someone responsible for cash appeals, for sending out welcome packs, for developing our newsletters.  We may even have very big flow charts that map out key parts of the supporter journey.

Yet often our structure doesn’t have a senior head of retention and development who is responsible for setting the overarching strategies that increase the length of time our supporters are with us and the amount of money they give over their lifetime.

Under the head of retention and development we need key people who monitor attrition at key periods, 3, 6, 12 months and ongoing and are actually responsible for improving those rates.  That means the welcome process has to demonstrate drops in attrition, the newsletter becomes a key retention tool and not a platform for program people, it means key communications work to thank the supporter, show impact and their value to the cause.  Alongside this we need a position/s who are responsible for driving up the value of the supporter.  This person manages upgrade, reactivation, cash appeals, middle donor development.  These key people work hand in hand with the manager to drive retention and income growth.  They absolutely know their retention rates and what their targets are in terms of increasing value.  They know the key elements that improve both.  They work with their fundraising analyst (not the database manager but an analyst) to track, monitor and improve their work.

If you don’t have a structure that reflects those kinds of key strategic and operational responsibilities then trust me – it’s likely to slip and get lost in cash appeals, upgrade calls and newsletter production.  You’ll look at income only in terms of individual program delivery.  I’m not saying that’s not important – it is.  But it’s like looking at the stars but missing the sky.

Long term income growth comes from our ability to retain and increase the value of the supporters we acquire.  When you do the maths and see the accumulated income potential of even modest improvements in retention value over time it really is quite magical.

I would love to hear your views on this.  How does it work in your fundraising team? Who is responsible?

Anita de Ruijter

Currently Fundraising and Communications Manager at Save the Children New Zealand, Anita de Ruijter worked previously as Retention and Development Manager at Greenpeace International, has been a fundraiser for 15 years, is a mother of two, drinker of wine and lover of food.


Karen E. Osborne · September 23, 2013 at 19:08

Anita, I like this a lot. Does customer service fall under your purview? Are you responsible for major gifts donor retention as well?

Anita · September 24, 2013 at 12:59

Hi Karen,

I would see supporter services team leader reporting into the head of retention and development. I would see the high value manager reporting straight into the Fundraising Director.

Erik Leaver · September 24, 2013 at 22:38

Great questions. At smaller groups like mine, this work is difficult to put into the workflow. So the jack of all digital trades is the person who should but isn’t doing it.

Love to connect to do some follow up on your previous blog. In particular how you defined “reactivated”; how you define lapsed (as donors, as email churn?)

    Anita · September 25, 2013 at 12:23

    Hi Erik – that’s a good point you raise – at what stage do you invest in more human resources to create this specialisation in retention and development, with specific objectives and targets?. We had internal discussions around this and felt that when you reached a point where you had 30,000 regular supporters you needed these kinds of functions in your team structure. If you want to contact me further about the calculation blog no problem you can drop me a line at alee@greenpeace.org


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Fundraisingwoche vom 23.09.-29.09.2013 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · September 30, 2013 at 18:02

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