The Surprising Link Between Employee and Donor Retention


The groundbreaking research conducted by Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, Dr. Rita Kottasz and Dr. Adrian Sargeant entitled Mastering Major Gifts provides numerous findings which are indispensable for any professional fundraiser.

One of those key findings may seem a bit obvious: individuals with longer tenure are more successful major gift fundraisers. The study not only statistically proves the link, but underscores other areas in which the sector’s high turnover rate comes into play.

Improving employee retention is key, not only for major gift fundraising, but also for improving donor retention. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Conventional wisdom tells us that a donor needs to be supportive of your organization for several years before you can even think about stewarding a major gift. And donors stick around when they feel a personal connection to the organization, when they feel they have a voice, and when they are personally thanked often.

So when the average tenure of a fundraiser is between 18-20 months, it can be difficult to develop that relationship.

Anyone who works with a donor either directly or indirectly at a nonprofit has an impact on the development of the relationship the donor has with your organization. In order for any donor to feel comfortable enough to support your organization year after year, relationships need to be formed with multiple team members whenever possible. This is especially true if personal contact has been made, as is often the case with your larger supporters.

The personal contact usually begins with one of the fundraising staff, or in the world of small nonprofits, the CEO or Executive Director. Non-fundraising/non-management team members, who also interact with donors, can supplement this relationship build.

The highest donor retention rates we have observed flow from organizations focused on building a strong and loyal team of staff members. Here are a few of the factors coming into play for longer tenure, which should be considered:

  • Positive work environment
  • Appropriate goals
  • Salary
  • Time off
  • Flexibility

Going forward, perhaps the quest for higher donor retention will now include a watchful eye toward improving employee retention. Please let us know if it has made a difference already for your organization!

Donor Retention Math Made Simple

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman.
Jay Love
By |2017-06-10T18:35:09-04:00February 9th, 2016|Donor Retention, Nonprofit Management|


  1. Michael J. Rosen, CFRE February 9, 2016 at 12:26 am - Reply

    Jay, thank you for a terrific article about an important research project. While the article contains a powerful message, I wouldn’t exactly call the findings of the research project “surprising.” Those of us who have been around the nonprofit sector for decades have long understood the relationship between major gift success and employee turnover. Nevertheless, its good to have our long-held beliefs confirmed by solid research.

    The other point I want to make is that while employee stability can help ensure stronger donor retention and upgrading, you left out one additional likely reason for this. Organizations that take care of their employees are more likely to be organizations that also take care of their donors. In other words, these are organizations that have embraced a healthy culture which serves both employees and donors much better than the typical nonprofit culture.

    For organizations that want to maximize their impact, I suggest they take good care of their employees AND their donors. Focusing on employee retention is only part of the puzzle.

  2. Janet Ruprecht February 11, 2016 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I come from the for profit sector, where it has been long known that for good client satisfaction you need high employee satisfaction. The strongest correlation is when the employee is empowered to do things outside the box to help the client. Behind every empowered employee is an empowering manager, who helps that person feel fulfilled and appreciated.

    Non profiteers! Come out of you silo. Read the Harvard Business Review classics.

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