Just when I think I’ve got the world figured out, it throws me something that I can’t always wrap my head around. On my way into work this morning, NPR ran a story about California’s new social media privacy law. The crux of the bill now makes it illegal for employers (both current and potential) to ask employees to give out their passwords to things like Facebook and their email. While I applaud California for putting a stop to this, why did this law need to be passed in the first place?

FistLoyalty is a powerful force in the universe, but it’s often misunderstood. How many people do you think are truly loyal to a company that demands to see your private Facebook or email content otherwise they’ll fire you? Sure they may stay for a while because most people like having food on the table and a roof over their heads, but as soon as an opportunity for better pay or even equivalent pay at a less “tyrannical” place presents itself, they’re going to run to the door as fast as they can. Even if they stayed for a year, you might have retained that employee, but are they actually “loyal”?

No. The answer is no, just in case you were wondering.

The same holds true in the nonprofit world. A lot of people will donate to you year after year because it’s just what they do. They like comfortable habits, but they’re not loyal. The first time they hear about another organization with a similar mission, they’re going to go there if you haven’t properly built a relationship that makes them loyal to you. It’s the same thing as those companies in California. If you don’t build a good relationship with an employee, they’re going to leave at the first opportunity. In their case, they’re ruining that relationship by treating their peers as convicts.

Numbers and stats are deceitful things. There’s no doubt that a higher retention rate is better than a lower retention rate. But if that’s all you pay attention to, then you’re missing the big picture. Why is that number where it is? How likely is it to change? What are you doing to improve it? If your donor retention rate contains a lot of donors that are not engaged with you and are not loyal to you because you haven’t done a good job of building the relationship, then the lifeblood of your organization is at risk. Apathy is just as harmful to your organization as Draconian business practices.

Just because someone comes back, that doesn’t equate to loyalty. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that they did. Stories like this serve as a great reminder that we need to look beyond the numbers on a spreadsheet. We can’t just think about what we’re doing to make people stay with us, but what we’re doing to make people WANT to stay with us. Look at what you’ve done to keep your constituents engaged if you can build a better foundation for loyalty, your donor retention rate will improve.

Now, get back to work or I’m taking away your lunch hour!

img via fungleo

Rob Signorelli

Rob Signorelli

Co-Founder at Bloomerang
Rob Signorelli is Co-Founder of Bloomerang.