5 Metrics Fundraisers Need to Know to Retain Their Donors | npENGAGE

5 Metrics Fundraisers Need to Know to Retain Their Donors

By on Nov 29, 2018


Donor retention is undeniably critical to meet your nonprofit’s revenue goals, but it can be tough to know which efforts result in higher retention levels or upward movement of donors.

That’s why we put together a list of the five essential metrics you need to know, as a fundraiser, to achieve higher retention rates. Tracking these metrics will help you keep a pulse on the current engagement of your donors so you know which efforts are working and which ones need to be increased or modified.

The 5 retention metrics fundraisers should know are:

  1. Donor Attrition Rate
  2. Donor Level Moves
  3. New vs. Recurring Donors
  4. Frequency of Engagement
  5. Portfolio Status
  1. Donor Attrition Rate

What it is:

The percentage of donors who did not return within a particular giving level or donor category.

Why it’s important:

Different levels of giving levels and donor categories receive different appeals and benefits. By tracking attrition rate by level, you can see which levels and which efforts have been most successful. A high attrition rate at a certain level may signal that this level is perceived as not being valuable enough for the amount the donor is giving. While a low attrition rate helps signal that the fundraising efforts for that level have been successful.

Plus, decreasing attrition rates save your organization time and money. If there’s a category with a high attrition rate, it’s going to be more costly for your team to continue to fill that donor bucket than to keep those who are already in that bucket satisfied. As reports show, keeping existing donors engaged results in a higher ROI  than acquiring new donors.

How to track it:

[Count of Constituents Who Had a Gift Last Year AND Don’t Have a Gift This Year]

[Count of Constituents Who Had a Gift Last Year]

  1. Donor Level Moves

What it is:

This metric tracks how many donors have moved up or down and how long donors have stayed at the same level. This can be based on membership, category, and/or constituency code.

Why it’s important:

By tracking donor level moves, you’ll be able to see the trends of movement between gift amounts and giving levels amongst donors. This allows you to assess the efficacy of your efforts as well as determine candidates for major gifts.

When you see an upward movement trend of your constituents, then you can confirm that the efforts were effective. If you see downward movement—particularly sudden movements—you’ll need to assess why the downward trend is happening.

Membership organizations can use reports on donor level moves to see if there are people consistently moving up in membership levels who may be good major gift prospects. On the flip side, a large drop-off in donor level moves may signal a gap in membership levels. Oftentimes, people age out of their membership levels and don’t have another level to move into. For instance, there may be no membership options in-between student and family, or from family to senior citizen.

For non-membership organizations, you will look at changes in gift amount to track donor level moves. Tracking each donor level move will reveal which donors are ready to be cultivated and moved into a Major Giving Portfolio. Simply looking at which donors have given a large gift doesn’t tell the entire story because a donor who donates a large one-time gift is far different than a donor who gives increasingly larger gifts each year. The donors who have consistently increased their gift size are the ones that you’ll want to move into a Major Giving Portfolio—and tracking donor moves will show you which donors have been regularly increasing their gift size.

How to track it:

First off, you will need to rank your levels, since this is likely not done in your system by default. Once you have defined the levels, develop a method to track which level each constituent is in year after year. For membership organizations, this can be done by looking at membership categories and for non-membership organizations, this can be done by looking at yearly giving levels.

To keep track of these trends, choose the right charts and visualizations for your dashboard and then regularly report on upward and downward trends within each level.

  1. New Donors vs. Recurring Donors

What it is:

This metric reveals how many of your existing donors gave for the first time in the current year compared with how many donated prior to the current year.

We suggest breaking down new and recurring donors into four categories representing the most common groups to calculate:

  1. New donor
  2. First year recurring donor
  3. Multi-year recurring donor
  4. Lapsed donor

Separating donors into these four levels will give you a more accurate idea of how much effort will be required to engage each donor to give in the current year.

Why it’s important:

This categorization of donors will also help you drive more effective appeal efforts. You will be able to have different messaging and strategies for donors depending on their frequency of giving and familiarity with your organization.

For example, your appeal to lapsed donors will encourage them back into the giving process. Since they are already familiar with who you are, you won’t need an in-depth background on your organization. Instead, you’ll focus on how your organization has changed since the donor last engaged with you.

Knowing the categories of your donors will also determine the level of effort you’ll need to engage them again. Your appeals to new donors will require much stronger efforts than the appeals for recurring donors.

How to track it:

You can track this metric by defining the different categories of donors in your system. Then use your system to calculate how many of your organization’s donors fall into each category.

  1. Frequency of Engagement

What it is:

Frequency of engagement measures how many points of contact per donor your organization makes. This can include emails, letters, phone calls, events, and meetings, and any other types of contact you determine as “engagement”.

Why it’s important:

By tracking frequency of engagement, your organization will have a good pulse on the strength of your donor engagement. Low engagement should be a red flag for that donor’s designated point person within your organization and high engagement is a sign of a healthy donor relationship.

Consistently tracking this information on various engagements will also allow your organization to see which types of efforts tend to lead to more or less successful appeals.

If a donor just gave a large gift, you can look at their profile and see what types of actions led up to that donation.

Or, if a consistent donor suddenly stopped giving, you can also see which actions may have led to disengagement. It may be a case of not communicating enough with that donor, or perhaps sending too many communications requesting donations (which could be interpreted as not valuing the funds that donor already gave).

How to track it:

The first step is defining which points of engagement are important to track for your organization. Then set up a system to report on this engagement information.

For example, at your organization, tracking frequency of engagement could involve combining data from your fundraising system, ticketing systems, and volunteer systems. If you are fully using the events module on a major donor level in Raiser’s Edge NXT, for example, this will involve identifying actions such as meetings, phone calls, and emails that are typically attached to proposals and appeals.

Frequency of engagement at a museum may look something like this:

Frequency of engagement at a non-membership organization may look something like this:

  1. Portfolio Status

What it is:

Portfolio status is a solicitor performance metric that tracks the various stages of donor cultivation. This metric is essential to track in order to know what stage donors are in, how long they’ve been in that stage, and any movement between the stages.

Why it’s important:

This metric helps keep cultivation efforts moving and will also serve as a signal if there’s an opportunity risk.

How to track it:

Logging the different stages of solicitation is typically done by tracking proposals or actions and tracking when they move or change stages along with the dates of those changes.

From that information you can calculate what their current status is, what their previous status was, how much time passed in between stages, and the average amount of time the donor was in a particular stage.

Knowing the average time a person stays in a stage can be crucial to identifying red flags. To illustrate this, let’s say that Donor A averages 50 days in a stage and Donor B averages four days in a stage. If Donor B all of the sudden gets stuck in one stage for 40 days then that should be identified as an opportunity risk since this is 10x as long as they typically remain in a stage. If Donor A, though, has been in a stage for 40 days, it shouldn’t trigger any warning signals since their average time in a stage has been 50 days.



These five metrics are crucial to track to ensure that your donor retention strategies are on track. Retaining a higher percentage of your donors will save your organization significant time, energy, and money spent on soliciting new donors. With these freed up resources, you’ll be able to further invest in your existing donors and increase retention even more.




Keturah Hammond is the Product Manager of Answers at JCA, a business intelligence tool pre-configured for The Raiser’s Edge and leading ticketing systems. She has had over ten years of experience with data in various nonprofit settings, including New York Medical College, Boston Medical Center, and other healthcare-related organizations. She has experience with many different donor database programs, but her expertise is in The Raiser’s Edge and integrated products. She has developed a deep understanding of the needs and expectations of dynamic fundraising offices, and she has honed her skills in software implementation, data conversions, events technology management, staff training, and reporting.

Alexis Sykut is responsible for managing the development and implementation of Business Intelligence products, such as Answers, that align JCA‘s services with clients’ business strategies. Over the years, she’s been instrumental in developing, maintaining, and deploying JCA Answers products. Additionally, she delivers BI consulting to JCA clients such as Santa Cruz Seaside Company, Art Institute of Chicago, and National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Comments (66)

  • Karen says:

    Thank you for this blog. Your examples are amazing.

  • Maggi Junor says:

    That is a lot to keep track of.

  • Carrie Aranda says:

    This is a great explanation of key metrics and something our org is just starting to pay attention to and use for fundraising strategies.

  • R.S. says:

    Yes to all of these! Frequency of engagement can reveal so much. I like running a few types of reports on this. For instance, a report comparing personal vs. impersonal engagement: Many lapsed donors at mid-size gift levels stopped giving after long periods lacking personal engagement – they attended events and no staff talked to them, their thank you letters were formulaic, etc. It also showed that our donors at smaller gift levels responded to frequent engagement regardless of whether or not it was personalized. The biggest donors, though engaged a lot leading up to major gifts, seemed the most likely to negatively respond to general appeals and over-zealous engagement. As if, perhaps, giving really needed to be on their terms.

    • Alexis Sykut says:

      Your experience really elaborates on how these metrics can the be used together to provide true business impact. Powerful individually, and even more powerful when combined! Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • Gavin Mann says:

    Great article with some really helpful information. We’re not quite there with Donor Attrition Rate yet, but I can certainly see the benefits of having this data.

  • Anne says:

    This is very helpful information. We are really starting to pay attention to these types of metrics and I will definitely pass this on to others.

  • KaLeigh says:

    Very well explained. Thank you!

  • Karen Stuhlfeier says:

    Really good information. I’m going to share this.

  • Angie Stumpo says:

    Great info!

  • Julie Ann says:

    Something to think about, thanks!

  • Karina says:

    This is really good information to share with my team. Thanks for the article.

  • Courtney says:

    Important things to remember! Thanks for sharing!

  • Stephanie Boyce says:

    This has some great information, I am going to pass it along to my co-workers!

  • Christine Settles says:

    Interesting info, thanks!

  • Gillian Armstrong says:

    This would be a great starting place for us. Thanks for the really helpful graphs. These concepts make a lot more sense now.

    • Alexis Sykut says:

      A picture can definitely make a big difference in communicating results! It’s exciting that there are so many options on the market now to move past pivot charts and into full visualizations. I am glad this blog can help you!

  • Lisa Saneda says:

    This is such great information to have. I have always tracked the membership end of things, but this gives me a starting place to start on the donor side. Thank you.

  • Darcy Law says:

    Love this – just the info I was looking for, thanks!

  • Stacie D says:

    I agree with Maggie that this is a ton of info to keep track of. I think I’ll flag this article to reference back to in the future. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sunshine Watson says:

    Great post! Thanks!

  • Robert says:

    This is very useful overall, but for institutions like schools with an insular donor pool, I’m not sure how effective they would be.

    • Alexis Sykut says:

      The higher education organizations I have worked with still use these metrics. However, they are often looking at more focused groups within the data. Rather then looking at overall donor retention for example, they may analyze how each class or school is performing on the above metrics. This ties in more closely to their engagements as well – are their alumni events appealing to a broad range of graduating classes, or only appealing to the a specific generation. Is the Art History department more successful at generating strong alumni giving then the Engineering department? They also may see a very reversed pattern in attrition. Strong renewal closer to graduation and weaker renewal as the years go on. The most common segments analyzed are: School, Graduating Year, and Major. Additional segments depending on the data entry also include analyzing Dean and Board Member activity.

      With the right system, taking the base metrics and then looking at how they change depending on the segment can uncover new insights!

  • Linda McMillan says:

    Great information to have on hand! Thanks for sharing.

  • Cara Leighton says:

    We are a smaller staffed organization and we don’t have multiple major gift officers so we don’t do much on the portfolio tracking. There are some good things to note though from this article of things we should be tracking regularly.

  • Mary Sommer says:

    As a small organization, we try to hire staff with appropriate skills. However, we often rely on just one person, or one staff and an assistant to accomplish a broad spectrum of duties.

  • Jessica says:

    Good info. Thanks for sharing.

  • Steve Walsh says:

    Excellent information, very helpful

  • christine says:

    thank you

  • Gwen says:

    Thank you for this article. It was a great reminder of how these metrics can impact the work we do.

  • Stephanie Crawley says:

    Saving for future reference.

  • Shelly Gammieri says:

    Thank you so much for building this. The graphic examples of what to track are really helpful, and this is just a really great list of metrics for donor retention.

  • Sage says:

    Fantastic stats and great examples! This drives home the need for data driven insights!

  • Cathy says:

    Very helpful. Thank you!

  • Carlene Johnson says:

    I’m working on a bunch of metrics right now, so this was particularly timely! Thank you!

  • Claudia says:

    I think you need to look at all of things but really focus on what provides meaningful or significant trends. Attrition will be a new one for us…

    • Alexis Sykut says:

      Agreed – it is important to not only track these metrics – but also to take positive action in response. Tracking year over year or even month over month can help highlight when there is a change in trends that may not be noticed otherwise. This provides the opportunity to reverse negative trends or continue on the path towards positive ones. Thank you for your comment!

  • Jenny says:

    very awesome. lots of good information in this article

  • Barb Gill says:

    This article is thoughtful and has lots of helpful information. Thank you.

  • Debbie says:

    Great article, thank you!

  • Matt G says:

    Love this. Those 5 are a perfect start. The next part? Getting to know what to do from those and making them actionable!

  • Alicia Barevich says:

    Super important stuff!

  • Brett Chapman says:

    I appreciate all of the great information!

  • Heather says:

    I love metrics! We are not doing all of these, but I’m going to pitch some more of them to my office. Thanks for the article!

  • JoAnn says:

    Been working on reporting more metrics. Good info.

  • Sandra Ross says:

    great info – we definitely have work to do. Would love some training classes on how to set up insights and dashboards for these metrics that we can customize for our organizations.

    • Alexis Sykut says:

      Many of the non-profit focused organizations offer classes on dashboards and metrics that drill in on many of these metrics. It’s a great place to start – and often my go to for drilling in to specific industry cases and examples. Also, Keturah and I continue to post on a variety of related topics for making data-driven decisions: http://jcainc.com/blog/categories/Make%20data-driven%20decisions

    • Nick Vlattas says:

      Hi Sandra!

      In addition to the resources Alexis pointed out, we at Blackbaud have training resources in the Raiser’s Edge NXT curriculum which would detail how to gain insight into these metrics. Particularly, the Raiser’s Edge NXT Fundraising and Analysis course would be a great place to get started.

      To register, reach out to [email protected] and provide a link to this article.

      If you have additional questions, let me know here, and I can follow up with you offline. Thanks!

    • Kody Jackson says:

      Howdy Sandra,

      We’re actually launching a course on Reporting and Analysis in Raiser’s Edge NXT fairly soon.

      Check out this blog post for more information: https://community.blackbaud.com/blogs/13/5339

  • George Buss says:

    This is great and timely. As we look for performance indicators, I’ll be sharing this with our team. Thank you!

  • Amy Dana says:

    This is great! Does anybody know which specific Queries/Reports in RE can help figure this?

    • Alexis Sykut says:

      Many of these go beyond the basic reporting provided in Raiser’s Edge, though obviously the data elements are there. For a DIY without investing in a full BI product, you can run exports of your gift and constituent data and use a tool such as Microsoft Excel to crunch the numbers. There are also quite a few tools out there that you can plug the numbers in that will help you calculate more. For example, the Association of Fundraising Professionals has a set of tools they provide on their site for the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

      Of course, having a BI product which helps extract and combine the multiple exports for you is another option!

    • Nick Vlattas says:

      Hi Amy!

      I’m on the Blackbaud team and appreciate your question! Alexis is correct in her response when she says that many of these metrics do go beyond the standard, out-of-the-box reports available in Raiser’s Edge.

      However, depending on how your organization has configured Raiser’s Edge (and which version you’re using), there are several reports which can provide insight into the extremely valuable metrics mentioned in this article.

      If you’d like, I will follow up with you offline with some resources I think you’ll find useful. Thanks!

  • Linda Mikelson says:

    Thank you for sharing. A good reminder.

  • Daniel Yu says:

    thank you for sharing!

  • Jennifer Dunmire says:

    Great content! Will be considering all of this in the coming months!

  • Cammi Derr says:

    Thank you for the detail even though it’s adding quite a load to my reporting output. I will definitely take a look at getting this information.

  • Tiffany Dorsey says:

    Thank you for adding the “how we track it portion” in your article. Most of the time we are focused only on individuals. Will definitely look at ways to track organizations and foundations as well.

  • John Mercer says:

    This is great advice and these are really good examples. I have worked places where management refused to do any analysis of giving (despite my offering to do it) and it was always a mystery why numbers went up or down. If we had tracked our constituents movement we would have known.

  • Donna Clute says:

    Great article and good reminder

  • Jeff says:

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Sarah says:

    Love the breakdown and graphics, thank you!

  • Susan Chomsky says:

    Hi Nick Vlattas,
    Are there any canned RE reports that will do this? Love the idea of it all but not looking to increase workload.

    • Nick Vlattas says:

      Hi Susan!

      I understand not wanting to add additional strain to your workload! The answer to your question depends on how your Raiser’s Edge database is configured, and, namely, whether you’re using Raiser’s Edge NXT.

      If so, Donor Attrition Rate, New vs. Recurring Donors, Frequency of Engagement, and Portfolio Status are all pretty standard reports – or at least attainable with relatively few clicks. If you’re using RE7, it’d be less automated, but the information is still there (if you know how to look for it). But, at that point you might be venturing into the “increased workload” territory 🙂


  • MK says:

    These are some great examples. Thanks for sharing.

  • Erin Parks says:

    I really appreciate the way this information was presented. I feel armed with not only easy-to-understand concrete ideas, but also easy-to-implement ways to get started using the ideas. Thank you!

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