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Retaining donors is essential to maintaining a healthy donor pipeline. Donor acquisition and reactivation start the process of filling the donor pipeline, but you’re going to need a strategy to keep donors from slipping through the cracks. How do you stop that from happening?

Even if you haven’t noticed a leak, part of your job as a leader is to handle all of the necessary preventative maintenance for managing a donor pipeline. So if you want to keep your donor pipeline from leaking, there are two areas you should immediately reinforce: your retention and stewardship strategies. Retention and stewardship are two ways to be intentional about keeping your donor pipeline leak-free and flowing.

How to Accurately Measure Retention

Exclusively focusing on dollars raised, number of donors, and percentage of donors retained year-to-year — the three most common measures that organizations evaluate consistently — can mask significant problems within a fundraising strategy, as well as hide success stories.

Here’s an example of a real-world scenario that can be a little deceiving when it comes to measuring retention:

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In this case, the organization grew 16-fold from 420 annual donors to 6,800 in three years. By looking at just these numbers, it appears that retention decreased from 46 percent to 18 percent during this explosive growth period.

However… by digging a little deeper, it was discovered that the organization’s retention of donors had actually improved. It was retaining 10 times more donors than it had before.

Donor retention, as a percentage of the available donors, was smaller, but it represented significantly more donors each year. Its universe – the denominator in the equation – had simply grown more dramatically. So while retention wasn’t keeping pace with the growth, it wasn’t a failure either.

Without further inquiry, this organization might have stopped its acquisition efforts in order to focus on shoring up retention. Or it might have thrown out its stewardship program and started over. Both moves would have been serious mistakes.

What are some ways you’re making sure the numbers you’re measuring are accurately projecting your fundraising forecast?