Dioceses and archdioceses typically conduct annual appeals at the beginning of the year. Most diocesan appeals are aligned with the Cardinal, Archbishop or Bishop, and serve many needs across the diocese involving education, worship or social services. A common practice is to repeat the campaign year after year, trying to attract the same donors to give again.
In these appeals, the direct mail packages and associated landing pages tend to focus on one-time gifts and pledges to be paid over 10 months. Usually there is only a checkoff box on the pledge card for donors to indicate they’d prefer to arrange a recurring monthly payment. But this message almost seems like an afterthought, and is easy to miss.
I find this strategy somewhat confusing, and wonder why the dioceses don’t encourage their loyal annual appeal donors to give monthly instead. By doing so, not only will the donors make their lives a little easier while helping their diocese or archdiocese, but they’ll also avoid receiving annual appeal letters. Dioceses need to continue reaching out to their monthly givers — not with an appeal letter, but with an annual thank you letter and quarterly newsletters instead.
Whether you refer to it as monthly giving, recurring or sustainer giving, this type of giving provides several important benefits:
- The retention rate for an average donor is 43%, according to Bloomerang. The retention rate for a monthly giver is much better, at 85%. So this group tends to stay with you and continue giving.
- Monthly donors are inclined to give more money. According to Donor Perfect, recurring donors give $625, much higher than the average gift of $125.
- With a monthly giving program in place, you can focus more on your mission and worry less about where the money is coming from. Since monthly giving provides a dependable source of income, it becomes easier to plan for the future. Even more importantly, it frees you up to build relationships with your donors, and show them some love.
How should you change the emphasis in your annual appeal to promote a monthly giving program? Here’s a 10-step plan:
- Start a “monthly givers club” and decide on the special benefits. Benefits could include a special quarterly newsletter, sent only to monthly givers, with stories of people whose lives they have changed. Other benefit options could include remembrance in masses and novenas, invitations to special events or volunteer opportunities, or online recognition.
- Invite everyone to join the monthly givers club. Some people will opt to continue giving as they have in the past, and that’s fine. Give this group a unique name that reflects their special relationship to your diocese and the impact of the gift — such as Partners, Supporters or Champions.
- Segment your donor list. Segment your donors into groups such as current donors who donate with a one-time gift, current donors who donate with monthly pledges, prospects and lapsed donors. Each group should be communicated with differently moving forward.
- Write a special appeal letter to each group. For current donors, include details on the amount of their gift and the number of years they have given. Include heartfelt thanks for their continued support and the important work that has been accomplished with their help. You should make these donors the heroes in the stories, since they have helped your diocese achieve its mission. For prospects, include an appeal asking them to join you in your mission. For lapsed donors, thank them for their past help and ask them to consider rejoining you in supporting your mission. Showing gratitude is key in all cases.
- Include a specific call to action. Donors want to lend a hand, but it’s key that you tell them precisely how they can best help your diocese: by joining your monthly givers program.
- Create an insert for the appeal package that explains the specific, tangible impacts that recurring gifts can make. Describe how the monthly givers club works, how its funds are used, and the benefits your donors will receive. Use simple graphics and text so your message is easy to understand, and be transparent about your need to sustain your diocese.
- Define monthly giving levels. Make it easy for donors to understand exactly what each level will accomplish. You might be wondering what levels to suggest for monthly giving. Erica Waasdorp, author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, recommends setting your initial monthly ask for entry-level donors at about one-third of your average onetime gift.
- Create a dedicated monthly giving donation page on your website. Be sure it’s user-friendly and includes the benefits of your monthly givers club.
- Urge donors to give directly from their bank accounts. Encourage donors to make electronic funds transfers from their bank accounts instead of using credit cards. Credit cards expire and are time-consuming to update — plus the credit card transaction fee reduces the impact of their gift.
- Incorporate monthly giving in all communications. These messages can be as simple as including a quote from a donor on your home page, a basic graphic in your newsletter or a mention of monthly gift options on your website’s general donation form.
According to Donor Perfect, shifting the fundraising focus from immediate gifts to monthly giving can make for smaller monthly fundraising gains during the transition, even though retention and overall revenue may increase in the long run.
To shift donors to want to give monthly, they need to feel there’s extra value in giving this way. Pay careful attention to your messaging, track responses and keep careful records. Clarify what they accomplish through their donation, what they receive in return and that they’ve now become part of a special group to support your mission.
Mary Cahalane, from Hands-On Fundraising, sums it up perfectly, “Like everything worth doing, a monthly giving program takes care and consistency. Make it all about mission, not money. And be patient… your program will grow!”