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Podcast | 7 Database KPIs to Understand Donor Loyalty

Determining the health of your organization can be tricky. The success of one campaign or a decrease in one certain metric isn’t enough to know whether your fundraising efforts are working.  

In this episode of the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, we’re joined by Teena Wright, Annual Giving Director at Idaho Public Television, and Debbie Merlino, an Executive Vice President at Allegiance Group + Pursuant. Together, they outline the seven key database metrics you should track to get a better sense of where you stand. 

They’ll also address some common questions: 

  • How often should you look at your data? 
  • How can you account for seasonality as you compare one time to another? 
  • What KPIs do you track for a campaign vs. long-term planning? 

Listen now to get the seven database KPIs that will give you a clear snapshot of the overall relationship donors have with your organization.  

Want to hear more? Listen to the full episode:

Connect with Debbie Merlino

Connect with Teena Wright

Get more Go Beyond Fundraising Podcasts



Host: Welcome everyone to today's episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast. Today, I have an amazing couple of speakers that are going to be sharing some tips and tricks with us today around the key database metrics that you should be tracking across your data. 


Before we get into that topic, I would love to introduce said speakers. So first, I'm thrilled to welcome Teena Wright, and Teena serves as the Annual Giving Director at Idaho Public Television. I'm thrilled to have someone who's actually worked in radio and television on our podcast today. So, Teena, welcome. 

Teena Wright: Thank you. Glad to be here. 

Host: Yeah. So, Teena, I'd love to know a little bit about you and your background at Idaho Public Television. 

Teena Wright: Sure, absolutely. I joined Idaho Public Television about nine years ago in the nonprofit space, which we are. We are PBS affiliate. I have about 25 years of experience in nonprofit fundraising, and I moved over from a social services organization, a food bank. 

And prior to that, I worked for the Electric Power Research Institute in the electric utility sector as a nonprofit organization where member utilities joined, and we did research and development. So, I parlayed most of that fundraising experience here to public television. And we are a statewide broadcaster and online streaming service. Again, PBS affiliate and a lot of our own local programs. 

Host: Awesome. Well, again, so thrilled to have you today. 


We also are joined by Debbie Merlino, and Debbie serves as one of our executive vice presidents here at Allegiance Group and Pursuant. Debbie, is this your first time joining us for the podcast or am I getting you a second time? 

Debbie Merlino: No, a third, actually. Not a frequent podcaster, but it's always a fun opportunity and really the first time with one of our clients. So, we at Allegiance Group and Pursuant work with about 25 public media organizations on our agency services side of the business, Teena and Idaho Public Television being one of them.  


So, I'm excited to share along with Teena about sort of the seven key database metrics. And what we hope to share today really goes beyond just public media. Those folks in public media will likely recognize Teena, maybe even myself. But really, for nonprofits of any stripe, I think the information that we share today will be really useful for everyone. 

Host: Awesome. Well, let's get right into today's topic. And before we really get into the meat of it, I would love to get a little bit of background and maybe Debbie, you can answer this first into what are, you know, what is the reason that we're talking about these database metrics today? What are some of those common obstacles that you see nonprofits running into when it comes to their database and why they maybe struggle to know exactly which metrics they should be paying attention to? 

Debbie Merlino: That's a great question, Leah. Thanks for sort of putting today’s podcast in context. On a day-to-day basis, I talk with a lot of not-yet clients really in all verticals, but also a lot in public media. And what I see, regardless of vertical, is what one challenge that nonprofits often face is not being able to easily access data in the first place.  


But then when they do have data, really, it feels like they're being, I think, overwhelmed with a bunch of facts and figures and not really being able to sift through all that to identify what is the data that is most meaningful to them and what are the right data points that they should be looking at for the right job. 

So, in the public media space, Allegiance has its own CRM, and there is a value add in that CRM called the Essential Dashboard, which you know provides insight into a lot of that data. And while we will be talking about many of the metrics that can be found in that Essential Dashboard in the Allegiance CRM, you don't need to be a public media station or even use the Allegiance CRM and have access to that tool to get to these metrics. 

So, the metrics we're going to be talking about today are really metrics that everybody should be looking at and will have access to one way or another. It's just sort of a little different for every group about how they get to that number.  


Host: Teena, anything to add? 

Teena Wright: Yes, I think that's great. You know in our world of nonprofit, there are so many KPIs that you could track or should track. There's giving level metrics, how many times somebody gives, what's their capacity to give. There's engagement metrics, frequency of contact, you know, how often you're reaching out to someone, that kind of thing.  


And then there's the online performance. What do you track there? Click-throughs, email click-throughs, online gift percentage. There are so many different things to track for so many different reasons. And I think, in context for today, when we say the seven best things to track, KPIs, this is for me, how I use it is — and we'll talk about them — is the overview health of your donor file and your organization. 


So that if you have to give a presentation to your board, to your CEO, to your finance manager, or higher-level constituents in your organization, these KPIs will not only tell you the health of your organization, but they will be able to help you explain where you are with your revenue and etcetera and how you got there and where you need to go. So, these kind of give that kind of world-view look at the health of your file in a snapshot. 

Debbie Merlino: I think it's a great way of looking at it, Teena. And so, you know, these are not the KPIs that we look at when we're evaluating the success of a single campaign, or even when we're evaluating the success of a single channel. So, I love what you say about it has to do with overall file health and overall fundraising health. 

And you know, you mentioned these seven database metrics, and this might be a good place to just list them real quickly before we dig into the broader conversation. But when we talk about the seven key database metrics, we talk about year-on-year revenue, so overall revenue. And then usually, we break out recurring revenue separate from that. But year on year revenue is #1, donor file growth, donor retention, gifts per donor, the average gift, revenue per donor, and then the overall cost to acquire a new donor. 

There are some variations on all those themes. But if you needed a list of what are the seven things I need to look at, that's where we would tell you to start. Again, about the overall health of your fundraising program.  


Host: That's great. And I love that you opened with that intro because I think there are a lot of people who sort of stumbled their way into fundraising, and they may not necessarily have the background or the training in database or just in data analytics that they need to be able to do their job to its fullest. And so, I love that we're covering these for folks and demystifying them a little bit. 

So, Teena, let's go to you. How often do you look at fundraising KPIs, and are there any that you like to look at first? 

Teena Wright: Good question, and specifically with these world-view top seven. Well, I'm in data all day long, so I pretty much look at my dashboard every day. It doesn't change that much. But consistently, I try to make sure that I am looking at it and deep diving into each area once a month to no less than once a quarter to make sure that my campaigns that I'm running and anything that I'm doing is performing as I need it to perform and that my file is, you know, if I see anything that's happening. 

What’s nice about having it in front of me in a dashboard is I can compare and contrast with dates: How did we do last quarter compared to this quarter? Or how did we do last year compared to this year at the same time, depending on what type of data that I'm looking at. 

So, I would suggest looking at it at least once a quarter, if not more than that, and making sure that you're seeing patterns. If you're seeing any patterns — like, if your recurring revenue is going down — there's something going on in the system, or a bunch of people cancelled or something's not calculating correctly because it should be fairly consistent with recurring revenue or growing as we like to see. So, if there's something going on with that, with that data, then that's going to warrant a deeper dive. 

Debbie Merlino: I think that's such a good point about how you are in the data very often and, you know, other people might not be. I totally agree that quarterly is a good time minimally to be looking at those seven metrics. 

For public media, we sort of think about after each drive and after all the gifts have been processed for each drive. That can be something that you add to your checklist. At the very end of the checklist as you're wrapping up a drive and all the gifts are processed, thinking about that being one of the times to look at the KPIs. Because there are things, like you said, that recurring giving that you'll see more fluctuations. And if there is anything wrong, you want to be able to catch that early. And being able to see something like that, whether it's in your Essential Dashboard or in another tool, allows you to sort of identify a problem and jump on it right away. 

Other things that might take a little longer to bubble to the surface are your overall retention rate or maybe the overall average gift. Gifts per donor is going to take a little while longer for it to percolate and to be able to see those year-on-year trends. But yeah, I think it is great to think about that — at least a quarterly cadence for those big things. And then I love that you're in the data so often and monthly, again, is definitely best if people have the time. 

Host: How do you account for seasonality in data? We know that, over the year, sometimes acquisition can wax and wane, then the number of folks that are signing up for memberships or recurring giving can wax and wane. So, when you're looking at metrics from one period of time compared to another period of time, how do you typically like to tackle that problem? 


Teena Wright: Do you want me to jump in? Why don't you jump in first, and then I'll go and relate a couple of experiences. 

Debbie Merlino: Yeah, that would be, I would love to hear about your real-life experiences.  


I would say that for most reports similar to as in our Essential Dashboard, we have a “same time last year” for most of the reports. So, that helps with that seasonality and understanding when you account for seasonality, what did things look like the same time last year? That's a great way to also be tracking especially new donors.  


You know, right now, it being early in May with not much left in the fiscal year for many of our public media stations, it's good to be able to take a look at what's the number of new donors that they have right now compared to the same time last year. And it can forecast with their final pledge drive of the year coming up. Like, where do they think they're going to end the year even before that drive starts, right? 

Teena Wright: I agree with that. For a scenario for us, a few years ago, when I first started, the group here wasn't focusing on acquisition. And I used these metrics — didn't have them handy on a dashboard — but calculated them out with information from the database to track where we were with all the metrics. And part of it was donors, and we could see that our donors were kind of staying the same, but our file was not growing at all when I compared year over year like five years before. And so, deducing that, where's acquisition? Are we not doing acquisition? How are we not doing any acquisition?  


And we were not. We were not focusing on filling that funnel, starting the funnel with donors. And I was able to tell that more just because of, you know, everybody was happy that we were staying the same but didn't really take it one step further. Well, people are going to start falling off. That's just what happens. And if you don't have people to fill in, you're going to start losing donors, you're going to start losing revenue. So, that's just part of the tack. 

But it was easy to see that and then add in the acquisition. And as Debbie mentioned, it takes a while for it to start to move the needle. But our acquisition, rightly so, was powerful. We had a lot of great return on acquisition, and we still are several years later trying to catch up from all the folks that we were not acquiring to begin with. So, that was part of it. 

And then now, as I watch my acquisition grow — and our state is kind of an anomaly, with a lot of folks moving in due to the pandemic, a lot of people working from home. And we've sort of been discovered as a great place to live, and there's a lot more people moving in. And we've really been pushing the acquisition, and we're still seeing that needle move a lot. And that just kind of trickles down to other metrics as well, like retention. Are we keeping these people? Are we moving them up? So, that's helping the health of our file in many, many ways. 

But just noticing and keeping people in one dimension of, you know, a number of donors, and you think you're not losing anybody, you really need to think farther than that. 

Host: I'm going to preface this question may be a curveball, so you do not have to answer it. If you don't know, we can edit out, but I’m just going to go for it anyway. So, I love that you shared about how there are a lot of new folks moving to the area, and you're thinking about ways to move some of those folks into a relationship with you. And I think that when you expand that idea out — you know, many people may have been supporting their local PBS affiliate or NPR affiliate where they lived. And if they're moving to a new area, they're most likely going to want to be moving that support to their local station. 

And there are a lot of other nonprofits who have that sort of chapter-based, multi-location-based model, but having the information about what kind of supporter someone looked like at a previous station would be really valuable to have. Is the overall database of folks who are contributing to PBS stations shared across all the different locations, or is it kind of track station by station? 

Teena Wright: That's a really good question. And no, it is not shared. You know, we do have the advantage of having a lot of data that we can compare and contrast station to station, but databases aren't shared.  


We do use another product though, just piggybacking on that, that helps us to narrow down who our folks are that are moving here and some of their psychographics and demographics. And part of that is to target if they give to other public information entities like NPR and PBS in a different state. So, we know that, and we can we have lists of new movers, and we can focus in on the folks that have given somewhere else with messaging to join Idaho Public Television. 

Debbie Merlino: Yeah, something just to add to that. So, while that database of movers from one place to another and if those movers previously gave to public media is not available, what stations can be doing though is making themselves easily findable when somebody does move. So, a number of ways to do that.  


Number one is make sure that they have an adequate digital advertising program in place. It's one of the things that we do, and that has a wide-reaching effect, only one of which is helping people new to market identify their new station. When someone logs on to PBS, for example, they are directed to their local station, and it becomes a group of prospects. 

And so, we do work with Idaho Public Television and a number of other stations creating an email welcome series. So, this is a welcome series for prospects, not new donors — we have that as well. But that invites people to engage with the Idaho Public Television content, learn a little more about the station. And then later in the series ask them to become a donor. 

So, there are things where if you can just make yourself available to folks that are moving in and make it easy for them to find you, we can then build on that, create some engagement, and then convert them to a new donor. 

Host: I love that, thinking about the entire journey and relationship someone can have with you, from that first moving to a new area all the way through to becoming a supporter. 

Debbie, I would love to look at what are some of the different KPIs for building a plan versus campaign results? 

Debbie Merlino: Yeah, so, when it comes to campaign results, that's where we'd like people to look at by audience, you know, response rate, average gift, the revenue per thousand, any testing results again by audience segments. So, maybe your lapsed versus your ad gift versus your acquisition audience.  


I'm surprised still that sometimes, even when it's looking at a campaign, I'll talk to a not-yet client and they'll tell me how many gifts they got from a campaign and how much revenue, but that's it. So, campaign results like that just at the highest level isn't really allowing for iteration and learning, which is something that we highly value. So, those are things to think about when it comes to a campaign. 

But when it comes to planning for the future, like now, as many stations are sort of planning for the next fiscal year, it really is thinking about what are the essential questions that you want to know, right? So, you could just think of it even like in English. It doesn't even have to be as a metric, but it's like, “Is your donor base growing or shrinking?” is a key question that you should have an understanding about. 

And to Teena's point, regardless of if it's growing or shrinking, think about going one level deeper, looking at audience or donor life cycle. Is it growing because there are more new donors than ever before? Is it growing because there's more sustainers than ever before? Is it shrinking because you haven't been doing new donor acquisition? That's one thing to look at — so, is the donor file growing or shrinking? 

Also think about what's the overall revenue. How has that trend been over the last number of years? Is the overall revenue growing or shrinking? And then is the revenue per donor, what does that look like? 

I think many stations will find if they look into the data like this, that their total number of donors is probably relatively flat and that the revenue per donor is probably increasing because there's a greater and greater reliance on their multi-year donors. There's probably also increase in their recurring revenue, especially for television and joint licensees because of the increase in Passport. But that average gift is falling because there's more people, especially those recurring donors, more of those recurring donors giving smaller gifts. 

It's those types of things that you need to understand as you are about to build your budget for the next fiscal year because you need to think about, well, if we haven't been doing acquisition, we need to be adding that to our budget. But not just direct mail acquisition, there's digital acquisition as well. And what are all the tactics that you need to turn on to grow the file? So, we really think about this is the time to understand what those trends are. 

And then it's understanding where you are and then developing an action plan and figuring out what tactics you need to turn on to either take advantage of where you have a little momentum or where you need a little more of an intervention to turn things around. 

Teena Wright: Can I jump in? I agree with that 100%. I mean, and that's kind of where I see what we're doing and where we're going. And this is a little bit unique for public media, with Passport, as Debbie mentioned. Looking at the annual gifts per donor because she is correct. You know, you're focusing on more gifts per donor for the year, seeing what that's doing, because you're reaching out more often in different ways. 

And then the revenue per donor is important to look at and the recurring gift revenue, and that's where our file is a little bit skewed because our recurring donors are growing. So, that's making our revenue per donor go down a little bit. And sometimes, looking at that on a sheet, if your revenue per donor is going down, I present that to my GM, he's like, “Oh my gosh, we're losing money.” No, we're not losing money. 

To explain the difference between — recurring revenue does affect that revenue per donor because they come on the file on a smaller amount. That's a win for us because I look at it and explain that lifetime donor value, which you can track, and you should probably track that as you go. And especially important to track that with recurring gifts. That donor tends to stay on the file — 80, 90% retention rate for a recurring gift. So, they're staying on the file longer. The longer they stay on, the more valuable they become. 

So, explaining it that way and digging a little bit deeper makes a big difference when you're presenting that to somebody higher up the chain. And that's where Passport has been a boon for us because, as you know, there's a lot of that same mentality out there now. It's a donor benefit for us, but it's looked at sometimes as a Netflix or a Hulu, where you can come on the file for $7, $10 a month. And people like that, and they're used to that now, and they're also used to sustaining gifts. That's helping to grow our sustaining or recurring gift file. And those are very valuable members. But it does skew the numbers just a little bit with the average gift. 


Debbie Merlino: And it does open up an opportunity. And it's something that we're exploring with Idaho Public Television specifically and a number of other clients. So, we were just in a meeting together a couple of weeks ago where we were talking about those Passport subscribers that came in from Amazon, for example. And we're going to be using our GivingDNA tool to identify which of those — we call them subscribers, the people that Teena was talking about who are, at least right now they came in through Amazon. They've made a very modest monthly donation to have access to Passport, which means they have access to the content.  


But we can take that subsegment of subscribers and put them through the GivingDNA platform to understand which of those are also giving gifts to other arts and culture organizations. And then reach out to them with a philanthropic ask with the goal of converting them really from a subscriber to a philanthropic donor. And that's something that we'll be doing shortly together in the near future. 


Teena Wright: Right, and that gives us just a little more insight on this particular donor and also helps — a lot of these donors have that mentality like Hulu, Netflix, where you can, you know, you subscribe, you watch a series, and then you cancel, and you can do that with Passport. But we are wanting to keep these donors on our files. So, we need to educate them as to what they're doing.  


I mean, you wouldn't give a donation to Netflix to get Netflix, but you give a donation to Idaho Public Television for the content in Passport and why? So, we need to educate those donors, and we're using different tools to be able to identify what the interests are for those donors, etcetera, so we can reach out with the proper messaging to bring them on board and keep them. 

Debbie Merlino: Yeah, you know, Teena brought up a really good point earlier, which is that sometimes a single piece of data by itself can be very dangerous. So, when somebody, whether it's somebody in the development department or a GM or somebody in the C-suite sees something like the average gift is going down, sometimes it results in, “We need to fix this. The average gift is … nothing can go down.” And you know, Teena's right. You need to understand what's driving those numbers. Because for a lot of public media stations, the average gift is going down because there's more and more of these recurring donors who are making smaller and smaller monthly payments, for lack of a better term. And every payment or every transaction is considered a gift. 

So, it's not that there's anything that's broken, it’s not that there are people that are less philanthropic. The reason for the decline in the overall average gift is because there's an increase in the number of sustaining donors. And that's why we really, when we work with our clients, as we walk them through these KPIs together, provide reports that they can share up the chain within their organization to put some context around it. Because one data point without context can sort of send somebody down the wrong road trying to fix something that's not broken and just hasn't been explained. 

Teena Wright: Yeah, I would agree with that. And I think that the KPIs that you mentioned and the ones that we are looking at here overarching really answer all the questions that somebody would ask if you were presenting just one element. If you look at all those in the pictures together and compare and contrast weekly, yearly, however you're doing it, you're going to get a really good idea of the health of your file and what you need to do. 

Debbie Merlino: Oh, Leah. You're on mute, Leah. 

Host: Should be back. I started to speak, and I was using my spacebar to unmute. And my Bluetooth. 

Debbie Merlino: It happened again. Leah, it just happened. 

Host: OK, all right. I was trying to use my spacebar to unmute, but I guess it had stopped working. Yes. So, what was I saying?  


I love all the points that both of you brought up in that data should always tell a story. And if you're only looking at one piece of data or two pieces of data in a vacuum, you don't have the story. And so, looking at what those KPIs that you choose to report up to the finance director or the general manager, what's the story that you want to be telling to people with the decision-making power around how budgets are allocated and what strategies that you pursue? 

And Teena, I'd love for you to dive in and answer that first. 

Teena Wright: Sure, absolutely. And I do use these KPIs as a kind of fold-together presentation, but it trickles down from there.  So, present the KPIs, and then what are we doing to move the needle on each one of them? What are the strategies? Not as much into the tactics, but what are the strategies? Or where are we lacking, and what should we be doing? Or is there a new direction that we could go that would save us money and be more powerful? So, there's a lot of strategy that goes into meeting those KPIs.  


And if I start from the top and flow down in strategy for the needs and wants, and then I can present a budget for whatever I may be acquiring. If it's, you know, we know Passport is digital. We know a lot of those folks are coming to us in the donor journey and they're digital, they're not direct mail or another way. Maybe we need a new digital marketing platform, fundraising platform that helps to get our message out that way and to reach those types of people or to keep those people engaged.  


So, the KPIs are sort of that starting point. Here's our file. Here's where we're healthy. Here's where we could use some growth, or here's where we're falling or lacking. And then the strategies that I need to make those needles move in the right direction and then ask for the budget and the tools to be able to do it. 

Debbie Merlino: Yeah, I have to say, I really don't envy any CEOs or GMs in public media right now. I think they have a really hard job. We also see that there's been an influx of relatively new CEOs and GMs in public media, many of whom have come from the commercial broadcasting world. So, a lot of this development and fundraising stuff is new to them, and I can only imagine that they might feel like they are killing it when it comes to all the management aspects of their role. But that they may feel very much like a novice still when it comes to development and fundraising because that just wasn't part of their world if they came from commercial broadcasting. 

So, I think one of the most important things that any new CEO or GM can be doing is really to sit down with their VP of Development or the appropriate person in the development department and really just get a primer on all of this fundraising stuff, whether it is having them walk them through these seven KPIs and why they are important. 

It's something that as an agency, our clients often ask us to either meet with those folks in the C-suite or sometimes even in their board. And we can either do those presentations together or provide information that folks in the development department can use with their CEO or GM and put it and take the fundraising speak out of it. Because sometimes that can create a wall — the language. 

But if you just, again, if you go back to the essential questions and just sort of put it in English like, “Do we have more donors or less? And is each donor giving more or less money?” But you can start to break down the walls and just have a conversation about what those two teams are trying to do and how upper management can facilitate the goals of the development department. 

Host: Absolutely. Language is everything. Sometimes you can be saying the same thing but just using different words and completely unlock understanding for someone else. 

Debbie Merlino: That is so true. I mean I think you know folks in development will tell you that there were, in the past — I don't see it so much anymore — but in the past, there were years and years where you know, someone would see a single line on our results report, let's say a direct mail acquisition and someone would see (that and say), “Well that's a net loss. That new donor (acquisition), we just need to cut that right out of the budget.” 

And there was a period of time where in public media especially, acquisition direct mail, budgets were being slashed. And luckily that was at a time when on air was performing better than it is now so that there were other channels to support new donors and drive new donors into the organization. 

But you know, for any other organization, for new donor acquisition — especially new donor direct mail acquisition — to be slashed like that, if they didn't have the airways available to them and these other channels for new donors, those somewhat dangerous decisions that were being made could have had negative impacts on an organization for three, four, five years into the future. 

Teena Wright: That's very true. And with acquisition, I mean, bottom line is you really need to know your audience, your donor audience, your potential donor audience. Who are you trying to reach and how? In public media, for public television and specifically, we still have that older female, 65-plus donor, and they like direct mail. They still do. So, it performs very well for us. An acquisition, especially for a CEO that sees that it doesn't make money, we in fundraising know that it usually doesn't make money. It's a cost for us.  


But to have the numbers and the data to explain where you can go with that donor and the lifetime donor value of keeping the donor, moving the donor up the chain, the healthier file, I think if you can explain that in their terms. And then if you're looking at revenue, just even just an ROI, a quick ROI on everything, it makes more sense to them. And I think that they realize that, again, you can't just look at one line item — even with direct mail and your whole direct mail performance, ad gifts, lapsed, all of it. You can't just look at the acquisition cost. You have to look at the whole program. 


And I think that's true even with all these KPIs. Again, not looking at just one number. You really have to paint the picture. 

Debbie Merlino: Yeah, I think, again, I don't envy the CEOs and the GMs. I also think it's hard to be a development person in public media or in any vertical because I think nowhere else are professionals like Teena and those at other stations around the country and other nonprofits — everybody feels like they have an opinion about their job, right? Because so many people in the real world are engaging with fundraising of some type, right? They either receive emails in their inbox, or they come up against digital advertising, or they have an opinion about the direct mail that they get or that their parents get, whether they open it or don't open it. And so, there are a lot of opinions about that. 

But I often think of us at the agency as, like, the fundraising doctors. So, these same people wouldn't go to their doctor and tell them, “But I know better and let me tell you my opinion about what I think this cough means, right?” And so, that's why having the data and being able to present this information with the skill that these development professionals have and then relying on the data as the science to back up their opinion is really what is, I think, the most important. And I think it will elevate the professionalism of development and fundraising in general.  


Host: I think in the age of the internet, even doctors might say that plenty of patients come in thinking that they know better than the doctor does. Unfortunately, these days. 

Debbie Merlino: No, you're probably right. 

Host: We've just got a few minutes left, and there's so many different nuances and different avenues we could go down. But I think a great place for us to land would be, let's look at KPIs that point to relationships. And Teena, this was, I think, a term that was particularly something that you care a lot about. So, why don't we end there? 

What are the KPIs that nonprofits should look at that give a really great snapshot of the overall relationship a given donor has with your organization? 

Teena Wright: That's a really good question. I think what floats the top for me. I mean there are several that we talked about there, with lapsed rates, churn rates, retention rates, acquisition costs, those types of things. But I look at retention rate for my segments when I break it down. So, overall retention rate I think for me is a good relationship tool or measure. It's usually a little longer time to measure that, but you can do it quarterly. 

If your retention rate quarterly or year over year is dropping, that's telling me that there's a relationship that's not being met there. Are you not talking to your donor in the right way? Are you not reaching out with the right message? Are you not thanking them enough? What are you not doing because they're not staying with you. So, why? Why are they dropping off? 

And it just warrants looking further down the pike to see what that is. So, for me, if I was going to pop up with one, it would be making sure of my retention rates. And that's the overall file — with my sustainers, with different levels of giving. Where is that retention rate hanging at, and are we within the average? 

And the nice thing with the public media stations is we do have some overarching shared metrics that help us to measure against like organizations or (like-sized) organizations in the public media space. And that kind of helps us give us a little bit more benchmarks, and we can tell if we are way ahead of the game or way below the game and what is one station doing that the other one isn't. 

But for overall nonprofit to watch that retention rate is a really good key to make sure that you're keeping a good relationship with your donor. If that is steady within one or two percentage points and is pretty high, then you know you're doing the right things. If it starts to wane, then what new things do we need to do? What do we need to pay attention to that we're keeping that relationship alive? 

Host: Debbie, anything to add before we close today? 

Debbie Merlino: I mean, retention is king, Teena is 100% spot on, right? If you don't have the retention, nothing else matters. There are secondary metrics that you can look at. I think gifts per donor for non-sustainers can be interesting. It can be, I think, a proxy for engagement and overall revenue per donor. And if that's growing over time, I think can also be an indication of how invested your donors are in the organization. 

But those things don't matter if you don't have retention. So, at the end of the day, retention, retention, retention. 

Host: Well, I'd love for, just to close out, if we could name those seven metrics one more time in case someone missed it at the beginning. 


Debbie Merlino: Sure, I'd be happy to wrap up with the list. So, they are year-on-year revenue, donor file growth, donor retention, gifts per donor, average gift, revenue per donor, and cost to acquire. 

Host: Awesome. Well, Teena and Debbie, thank you so much for taking some time to sit down on the podcast today and go over these metrics for folks who, maybe they're a new GM, a new financial director, a new CEO at a public media station, and they just want to understand a little bit better about how they should be looking at their data. Or you're someone who's working at a nonprofit, and you were trying to wrap your arms around what you're seeing. 

I think this has been a really great conversation for folks, and I appreciate so much that you brought it to us. 

Debbie Merlino: Thanks for having us. 

Teena Wright: Thanks for having us.