A retention vision like Billie Holiday

Across the charity sector we literally spend days on the creation of boardroom presentations, we meet for hours in cross-functional working groups, and the other half of the day we’re either in one-on-one or team meetings… We’re all taking selfies. It’s all “Me, Myself and I“. But we’re looking the wrong way… we should be taking pictures of our donors. All those snapshots will tell us a story about who they are and what they want.

I think most of us are doing it all wrong. We don’t know our donors. We don’t take the effort to really understand them, talk to them, let alone track their feelings about us! Transactional data is only part of the story. The only selfies we should be taking are self-reflection and self-criticism. But there is a lot of that’s-how-we-did-it-last-year attitude going around. And that’s not gonna bring us even one step closer to our goal.

Billie Holiday, 1930s

Recently I worked on a brand new retention strategy with my fabulous team at SOS Children’s Villages (Netherlands). But to get there we first created a retention vision. The ideal situation. Where we want to go. Our own engagement Elysium, retention rapture, donor dreamland, supporter Shangri-la, fundraising fairyland… you get the picture.

We had discussed what we think is good practice in retention fundraising. After a couple of sessions we narrowed it down to the following vision that I want to share with you:

We understand that to achieve revenue growth in the long run we need to build long-term relationships with our donors. This relationship is based on satisfaction, commitment and trust. We are going to do this by giving our donors a 9+ experience. Because donors shouldn’t be merely satisfied, but very satisfied.

We’ll do this through a mix of distinctive, relevant and personal communication, in which we focus on the donor. We’ll present the programs and their stories as close by as possible, and show the impact of their support in an inspiring way. Donors must feel committed to the children and families we support.

We communicate in a respectful, honest, transparent and reliable way with all our donors. Even when we face challenges or when something goes wrong. Our communication is friendly, committed and touches you emotionally. We are increasingly looking for a dialogue with our donors and give them choice in how we shape our relationship. We give priority to creating insight in and continuous improvement of the donor experience. We’re going for the right balance in questions, information, involvement, feedback and recognition. We thank our donors: sincere, multiple times and different than others.

As we make our campaigns quantitative and qualitative insightful at every stage, we know exactly in advance what the impact is of our investment. We always make decisions based on data, ROI and LTV. And do so in consultation with other teams within the organization.


Do you see where we’re going? We aim for long-term sustainable income growth. And the donor is king. We use Adrian Sargeant‘s donor loyalty work as our theory of change: every contact moment we have with our donors should contribute towards the goal of extending the relationship by building satisfaction, commitment and trust. And yes, we will start to measure those values with our donors.

It’s up to every individual organization to identify your own exact strategy given the resources you have, but putting your vision down on paper helps you defining what retention fundraising means to you and your organization. Even better: it clarifies what donors mean to you. You need to value donors as much as you need value from them.

In such a process it’s not only the destination, but also the journey that counts. In the end everybody truly knows why we’re doing this and will translate this knowledge into amazing programs.

In 1937 Billie Holiday performed the song “Me, myself and I“. And here at SOS Children’s Villages we’re singing this song to our donors…

“Me, myself and I
Are all in love with you
We all think you’re wonderful
We do

Me, myself and I
Have just one point of view
We’re convinced
There’s no one else like you

It can’t be denied dear
You brought the sun to us
We’d be satisfied dear
If you, you’d belong to one of us”

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