Experiment: How Should Nonprofits Treat Monthly Donors on #GivingTuesday?

Giving Tuesday has grown so big, so fast since its inception that its gravitational pull seems to impact the entire final two months of the fundraising year.

It’s also become one of my favorite days to study the behaviors and tactics of nonprofits who are attempting to capitalize on the philanthropic bonanza.

In 2017 I did analysis of the email appeals I received, and 2016 I chronicled 25 “secret shopping” donations on Giving Tuesday.

This year, though, I wanted to shake things up and focus on the monthly donor experience.

Why monthly donors?

Monthly donors are a unique group of donors that any and all appeals towards should be handled with a little caution. Consider:

  • They trust you enough to give you their payment information for an automatic withdrawl
  • Their retention rates are typically above 90%
  • Their lifetime value is high, even if the individual donation amount is small

Giving Tuesday, in particular, represents a unique opportunity to annoy monthly donors:

  • “I’m already giving 12x; you’re asking me again?”
  • “I’m already giving 12x, and I just gave the other day!”

Don’t get me wrong; I think monthly donors should be asked for standalone gifts throughout the year, but not in a one-size-fits-all way on Giving Tuesday. In fact, I think Giving Tuesday represents an extraordinary opportunity to steward monthly donors and get a “bonus” gift!

But do most nonprofits think that way?

So here’s the experiment:

This year on Giving Tuesday, I made a one-time gift to all 10 of the nonprofits I give to monthly, whether or not they asked me to. The amount I gave was the same as the monthly recurring gift, so if I normally give $50 a month, I gave $50 on Giving Tuesday. This constitutes a “13th” gift to the nonprofit.

In doing so, I was looking for a few things to happen:

  • would they acknowledge it as a Giving Tuesday gift?
  • would they acknowledge me as a monthly donor?
  • would they acknowledge my gift as an “extra” donation for the year?

I was also curious to see how they would communicate to me leading up to and on the day of Giving Tuesday. In other words, would they segment communications to me as a monthly donor and make special appeal(s) to me or steward me in a unique way?

Here are the orgs I gave to, and how much:

  1. Adult day center in Indianapolis: $50
  2. Local public radio in Indianapolis: $5
  3. Indianapolis chapter of national social service: $10
  4. Indianapolis social service (aging and disability solutions): $10
  5. Indianapolis social service (child advocacy): $10
  6. Indianapolis social service (teen homelessness): $25
  7. Indianapolis social service (refugee resettlement): $25
  8. New England-based conservation agency: $10
  9. Moms Demand Action: $11
  10. charity: water: $10

Just in case you’re thinking “those are pretty small gifts; do you really expect the red carpet treatment?” – consider lifetime value (assuming a 10% attrition rate for monthly donors):

  1. Adult day center in Indianapolis: $50 x 12 / .10 = $6,000
  2. Local public radio in Indianapolis: $5 x 12 / .10 = $600
  3. Indianapolis chapter of national social service: $10 x 12 / .10 = $1,200
  4. Indianapolis social service (aging and disability solutions): $10 x 12 / .10 = $1,200
  5. Indianapolis social service (child advocacy): $10 x 12 / .10 = $1,200
  6. Indianapolis social service (teen homelessness): $25 x 12 / .10 = $3,000
  7. Indianapolis social service (refugee resettlement): $25 x 12 / .10 = $3,000
  8. New England-based conservation agency: $10 x 12 / .10 = $1,200
  9. Moms Demand Action: $11 x 12 / .10 = $1,320
  10. charity: water: $10 x 12 / .10 = $1,200

And that’s without any additional gifts!

So first let’s look at how each org communicated to me in the 7 days leading up to Giving Tuesday (11/27). Only two did so:

6. Indianapolis social service (teen homelessness): Giving Tuesday ask 11/24

7. Indianapolis social service (refugee resettlement): Happy Thanksgiving email 11/21

Now, let’s look at what each org sent to me on Giving Tuesday. For these, I would have expected a couple things:

  • Addressing me a monthly donor
  • Asking for a Giving Tuesday gift / mentioning Giving Tuesday
  • Some sort of acknowledgement that this is an “extra” gift beyond my monthly contribution

Here’s how they did:

  1. Adult day center in Indianapolis: none
  2. Local public radio in Indianapolis: 1 email
    • No
    • Yes
    • No (in fact, they suggested I start a monthly commitment)
  3. Indianapolis chapter of national social service: none
  4. Indianapolis social service (aging and disability solutions): none
  5. Indianapolis social service (child advocacy): none
  6. Indianapolis social service (teen homelessness): none
  7. Indianapolis social service (refugee resettlement): none
  8. New England-based conservation agency: none
  9. Moms Demand Action: 3 emails
    • No
    • Yes
    • No
  10. charity: water: 1 email
    • Yes!
    • No!
    • N/A

So let’s look at the charity: water email, since it was obviously a standout in the experiment:

No ask at all here, just pure stewardship that acknowledges me as a monthly donor.

They also sent a second email later that morning (also without an ask) explaining how one of their water filtration systems works (with a thank you for support at the end).

But what’s interesting about the rest of the data, other than a sort of weird email from public radio and a somewhat aggressive approach by Moms Demand Action, the other organizations did not send me an email appeal on Giving Tuesday (save the teen homelessness org who asked me a few days early).

Perhaps I was filtered out because I am a monthly donor? More on this approach in a moment, but first…

Let’s look at how org acknowledged my gift.

I made each donation online, through the nonprofit’s website, the evening of 11/27.

Here’s what I received afterwards:

  1. Adult day center in Indianapolis:
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • thank you letter by mail, 12/14/18
  2. Local public radio in Indianapolis:
    • auto-response email (immediately)
    • branded email thank you (immediately)
  3. Indianapolis chapter of national social service
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • appeal by mail, 12/1/18
    • thank you letter by mail, 12/3/18
  4. Indianapolis social service (aging and disability solutions)
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • thank you letter by mail, 11/30/18
    • email appeal, 12/6/18
  5. Indianapolis social service (child advocacy):
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • thank you letter by mail, 12/1/18
  6. Indianapolis social service (teen homelessness)
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • branded email thank you (immediately)
    • handwritten thank you note by mail, 12/18/18
  7. Indianapolis social service (refugee resettlement)
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • thank you letter by mail, 12/8/18
  8. New England-based conservation agency
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • print newsletter by mail, 12/12/18 (always get these quarterly)
  9. Moms Demand Action
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
  10. charity: water:
    • auto-response email receipt (immediately)
    • branded email thank you (immediately)

None of these pieces (email or snail mail) acknowledged that I was a monthly donor who made an “extra” donation on Giving Tuesday. While the one handwritten note was very nice, I also did not receive any thank you phone calls. Org #2 eschewed mail altogether, while #3 had an appeal reach me before the formal thank you letter. Most of the letters did mention that it was a Giving Tuesday gift, though, suggesting a level of segmentation. All included a handwritten signature with a little PS note.

So what should have happened?

Should nonprofits filter out their monthly donors from Giving Tuesday communications?

No. I get the mentality here; maybe you don’t want to bug them or mess with a good thing. But it’s a great opportunity to fund a specific project, communicate the impact of their monthly donation (and increase that impact) or let them know you specifically aren’t asking them, and instead thank them. Giving Tuesday doesn’t have to be exclusively Asking Tuesday.

Should nonprofits communicate to their monthly donors in the days leading up to Giving Tuesday?

Yes. Research shows that “priming the pump” leading up to an appeal is very effective.

Should nonprofits send a segmented appeal to their monthly donors on Giving Tuesday?

Yes. Again, they should get a unique appeal that no other segment of donors gets. Consider starting it off by saying “You’re already a monthly donor making huge impact, and for that we’re so grateful.”

Should nonprofits thank monthly donors who give on Giving Tuesday with a segmented acknowledgement?

Yes. This is a no-brainer. It’s a big deal for a monthly donor to make an “extra” gift, so act accordingly!

How about you? Did you do anything separate or unique with your monthly donors on Giving Tuesday? Did you ask them for money, or leave them alone? Let me know in the comments below!

The Art & Science of Digital Donor Retention

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.
Steven Shattuck
By |2018-12-21T13:55:06-04:00December 18th, 2018|#GivingTuesday, $5 Experiment, Donor Communications|

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