retaining more donors

There are two annual fundraising strategies I recommend you add (or rev up) this year.

Seriously, if you prioritize even one of these strategies you will see significant growth in giving. They’re the best ways I know to move the needle in improving your mid-level giving program, and they also serve as a pipeline to acquire new donors, upgrade current donors, and influence major and legacy giving.

They’ve been around a while, but these programs were a bit of a pain to implement prior to the digital revolution. So, many nonprofits took a pass.

But that was then. Today there are so many easy-to-use, inexpensive online tools that there’s no excuse for not prioritizing these annual giving strategies. I’m talking about:

  1. Monthly giving (to retain and upgrade), and
  2. Peer-to-peer fundraising (to acquire and upgrade).

This is so important, we’re going to cover what you need to know in two separate articles. Then I’ll follow up with a final article on other upgrading techniques. You can use the entire three-part series to build a comprehensive Donor Upgrade Road Map for the coming year.

Today I want to talk about monthly giving. Let’s get started!

That’s right. Monthly giving.

You know what it is. It’s where you get donors to commit to giving you equal, recurring smaller gifts throughout the year, rather than a single larger gift. These programs may also be called “sustainer” or “recurring giving” programs.

The value to your nonprofit of sustainer giving is exponentially valuable. Not only do recurring donors give more over the course of a year, they also stick with you longer. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, 90% of monthly givers renew. This compares with just 32% of first-time single gift donors and 60% of ongoing single gift donors [see Bloomerang Infographic].

The combination of larger gifts and longer retention also means your cost per dollar raised is significantly lower than with single gift transactions. What’s not to love?

There are two basic approaches to asking for monthly gifts:

ONE: Ask a donor who commits to making a one-time gift if they’d like to make it monthly. You’ll often see this approach used today online. It’s especially popular with political fundraising. I’ll click on the $5 button and a screen will pop up asking if I’d like to commit to this amount every month. It works, because the gift is small enough that I can easily envision repeating it. Voila! I’ve been instantly upgraded from a $5 to a $60 annual donor! You can use this approach on mailed remit cards and online donation forms as well, including a check-off box for “one time” or “monthly.”

TWO: Proactively invite donors to join your monthly giving club. This is a more active ‘campaign’ approach which presumes you’ve (1) thought through the process of giving your program a name and (2) developed a list of benefits those who join will receive. Benefits can be as simple as one or more of the following:

  • Feel good about helping a person, animal, place or thing on a monthly basis
  • Assure a stable source of ongoing funding so there are no gaps in service
  • Reduce the number of solicitations you’ll receive and lower fundraising costs
  • Make giving more convenient and save paper and trees
  • Budget and spread your philanthropy over time
  • Receive a special ‘insiders’ newsletter
  • Get a story every month about how your gift was used
  • Receive [you can also add in small tokens like a bookmark, fridge magnet, etc., but these absolutely aren’t necessary and there is research suggesting thank you premiums actually depress response]
  • Get invited to special monthly recognition event

If you’re thinking:

  • I can’t envision adding one more program to my plate…
  • We’ve tried this, and it never took off…
  • We just don’t have enough donors to make this worth our while…
  • We simply don’t have the resources to handle this…

Think again.

Get started with realistic expectations.

First, you don’t have to go from 1 to 60 in a nano second. Take a page from the guru of monthly giving (IMHO), Erica Waasdorp, who says you just need to set a realistic goal – then move toward it:

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

I love this quote because it’s so very true, especially when it comes to sustainers—no matter where you are in your monthly donor program. – Erica Waasdorp

If you currently have 50 monthly donors, you can commit to adding just 5 more this year. If you currently have 1000 monthly donors, maybe you want to commit to upgrading 10% of them. Look at your past history and pick a goal that’s a bit of a stretch, but realistic.

I’m spending time here asking you to commit to doing something you can manage, because I think monthly giving programs are that important!

Commit to a monthly giving goal.

How many monthly donors do you want to secure? At what average gift?

Once you’ve got a handle on your expectations, don’t just tuck this idea away in the corner of your own mind. That’s a recipe for procrastination, not follow through.

  • Write it down.
  • Tell your boss.
  • Tell your board.
  • Tell your team.

As human beings, we’re wired to follow through on commitments. So don’t just be thinking “it would be nice to have more monthly donors.” Really commit to doing the work.

ONE: Write down your commitment to building your monthly giving program. Do it right now, when your motivation is high. This is called “riding the motivation wave.”

“Motivation only has one role in our lives and that’s to help us to do hard things.” – B.J. Fogg, Psychologist, Director, Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford 

Have you written your goal down?

I’ll wait…

Really. Write something down. Even if it’s something you might revise later.

If I were holding an ice bucket over your head and said “Write down how many monthly donors you want to secure in 2019, or else I’ll drop this bucket,” what would you say?

I’m waiting (and my grip is loosening)…

TWO: Okay, now that you’ve written it down, who will you tell?  

Write that down too.  

I’m waiting…

THREE: Okay, now put on your calendar when you’ll tell them.

I’ll wait again while you hold yourself accountable.

Please… just do it!

A little bit of patience plus a dollop of answerability up front will be worth it down the road. The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found the probability of completing a goal if:

  • You have an idea or a goal:  10%
  • You consciously decide you will do it:  25%
  • You decide when you will do it:  40%
  • You plan how  you will do it:  50%
  • You commit to someone you will do it:  65%
  • You have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed to:  95%

Create your monthly giving plan by brainstorming key strategies.

The tactics you choose will depend on where you are now. If you’re just beginning, you’ll choose different strategies than if you have an already-established sustainer program. First build; then grow. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Strategies for new programs

  • Check whether you have systems in place to help you manage monthly giving. Does your website and/or CRM facilitate this (Capterra reviews different options here)? Can you take EFT (electronic funds transfer) and credit cards? Do you subscribe to an updater service that automatically updates expired cards?
  • Brand your program. Give it a name and identity. When I worked at a food bank we had a “Meal a Month” club. At a conservatory of music we had a “Mozart Society.” Charity: water has a monthly giving program called “The Spring.” Human beings are not just “doers.” We’re “joiners.”  Give them something to join. People like to be part of a like-minded community.
  • Add a monthly giving option to your remit device and/or online donation form.
  • Send an invitation to join your monthly giving club to folks who already give multiple gifts over the course of the year.

Additional strategies for growing programs

  • Build a branded giving website donation page. Network for Good data shows donors are 31% more likely to initiate a recurring gift, and will give an average of 43% more, on a branded giving page.
  • Send a brief survey to solicit feedback. Donors like to be asked for their opinions and advice! Ask which program(s) most interest them, how often they’d like to hear from you, and which communication channels they prefer (e.g., mail, email, text, or social media). Also, if you can accommodate online upgrades, test asking for an increase as part of the donor survey.
  • Call your monthly donors to thank them and check in. Ask some of the questions you asked in the survey.
  • Add a special appeal asking folks to commit an additional monthly donation for a specific program. Maybe you’re a Food Bank adding a new after-school snack program. You ask current donors to sign on to make an added $5/month gift for this purpose.

Additional strategies for well-established programs

  • Send a letter or email asking folks to increase their monthly gift.
  • Follow up with a call to say thank you and tell sustainers what an increased gift will accomplish.
  • Promote your monthly giving program on social media. Ask monthly donors to share their passion with their networks.
  • Secure a match to challenge new people to join you, or apply it to upgrade commitments. The San Francisco and Marin Food Bank is using the challenge below:

Strategies for all programs

  • Develop a written monthly donor acknowledgement plan that includes a welcome package for new donors, a special monthly thank you letter and a calendar of year-round communications and engagement opportunities.
  • Develop a case for what monthly gifts of various amounts will accomplish. Below is an example from Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Boston:

retaining more donors

  • Make your compelling case for monthly giving on your website. Include details about why monthly giving matters on your key pages, including your (1) Home Page, (2) Donation Page(s), and (3) pages where you tell stories that highlight donor impact. Each page should provide fast and easy ways to click through and make a monthly online gift. You can also include a downloadable form for this purpose, plus an email and phone contact. Below is an example from American Red Cross of a Home Page touting monthly giving.

retaining more donors

Why monthly giving is donor centric.

Think about giving from your donor’s perspective. Let’s say you need $240 to feed a senior for a year. That’s your real cost. This amount may seem daunting to many folks. But ask them to give you $20 a month? That’s something that may feel much more approachable.

Think of this as akin to a lay-away plan. I may really want that $240 jacket. But I can’t afford it right now. I can commit to the purchase today however, and put down $20 today while you hold the jacket – and hold me to my commitment.

Monthly giving is great for certain groups of your donors. Like seniors living on fixed incomes. Or Millennials just getting a start in life. Did you know the Millennial Impact Report found 52% of Millennials are interested in monthly giving as a means to meaningfully giving back.

If you’re still on the fence about the value of adding or growing a monthly giving programs, please read this Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact “Sustainers in Focus” series. Part One details a compelling longitudinal research study. Part Two offers best practices.

Next up: Part 2 of this three-part “Donor Upgrade Road Map:” Upgrade Nonprofit Donors Using Peer-to-Peer Fundraising.”

The Art & Science of Digital Donor Retention

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.