Erica Waasdorp of A Direct Solution and author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, recently joined us for a webinar in which she showed practical examples of recurring donor programs and shared how you can improve your donor retention and the long-time revenue of your organization.
If you’re considering starting a program to improve the retention of your small annual fund donors or grow an already existing recurring donor program to the next level, this webinar is for you!
In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:
Steven: Well Erica, my watch says 1:00, do you want to get started?
Steven: All right, cool. Good afternoon everyone if you’re on the East Coast, and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in-between. Thanks for being here for today’s webinar “How You Can Start and Grow a Recurring Donor Program.” And my name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
And just some housekeeping items before we get started. I just want to let everyone know that this presentation is being recorded and I will be sending out the recording a little later on this afternoon so if you have to leave early or if you want to review the content with someone on your team, you’ll be able to do that later on today. So look for an email from me in just a couple of hours. I’ll also be sending out Erica’s slides in case you missed them earlier today. I want to encourage everyone listening to please use the chat function right there on your webinar interface for a Q and A session towards the end of the presentation. As you’re listening to our guest, feel free to send any questions or comments our way and we’ll try to answer just as many questions as we can before the 2:00 eastern hour.
And just in case you’re new to Bloomerang, maybe if this is your first webinar with us or you’re not familiar with our product and our company, Bloomerang is a donor database. We’re a fundraising CRM. So if you’re in the market for that or maybe you’re thinking about switching sometime before the end of the year, check us out; you can go to our website bloomerang.co. You can request a demo, you can also download a little recorded video demonstration where you can get a look inside the software. We’d love for you to do that, do check us out if that interests you at all. There are also some great educational resources on the website as well, just like today’s webinar.
So I want to go ahead and introduce our guest, she is Erica Waasdorp. Hey there Erica, how are you?
Erica: Hey, how are you Steven?
Steven: Thanks for being here, and Erica, I should say that this is the third most popular webinar that we’ve ever done. So congratulations.
Erica: All right. Thanks.
Steven: I know some people have been tweeting me and emailing me leading up to this, they’re really excited. Great for you to be here. Just encase folks aren’t aware of Erica, she is President of A Direct Solution, and she’s got over 20 years of experience in direct marketing both on the client side and on the agency side. She has worked with many non-profits on and off the beautiful Cape Cod area where she’s joining us from and she helps non-profits with annual fund campaigns, grant writing, events and public relations, and she literally wrote the book on recurring giving. That book gets passed around the Bloomerang office quite a bit actually. Usually it’s on my shelf but I think someone stole it, I don’t see it over there. It’s a really great book, everyone is really going to learn a lot about monthly giving today. So Erica I’m really excited to have you, and I don’t want to take any more time away from you, so why don’t you go ahead and get it started for us?
Erica: Cool. Thanks. Okay, well welcome everybody especially the week before Thanksgiving, so I’m really excited that you’re joining me today. And if you would like to tell me if you have a monthly giving program now, yes or no, that would be great, just use that chat-box there, that would be wonderful.
And so, let me just start with what monthly donors are. Okay, so the key point with monthly donors is that they are typically small donors, all right. They’re not you’re big check writers, that’s really important to realize, yes you might be able to get some $100 a month donors, but that’s not that common. They’re really, really small and the good news is that you have a lot of these small donors in your donor base already, so those are the ones we’re going to try and convert. They are committed donors, they’re going to be giving to you automatically so that’s really great. There’s not going to be an end date on there and I’ll show you something more about that, and they are going to provide you that regular income that you as an organization are going to be looking for.
Now where do these monthly donors fall. Okay, this is the typical donor pyramid and they’re just above your annual fund donors, because obviously they’re giving more than once a year, but the other really exciting thing is that these donors are seven times more likely to leave you in their will. So that is really great stuff.
So why is it so important to start a monthly giving program? You’ve probably seen this info-graphic that Bloomerang developed, okay, based on the Association of Fundraising’s Effectiveness Study that was done last year and the sad news is that the retention rate is not that high. If you’re looking at the new donor retention rate, that’s less than 23%. And what I mean by retention rate, that is those donors that you brought on last year that give this year. Okay, so out of the hundred donors that you brought on last year, you only have 23 donors that are giving you another gift this year.
Now, if you’re able to get these donors to stay on the file for a little bit longer, that retention rate goes up to 61%, okay, but it’s still not the greatest. But if you look at the importance of increasing that retention rate, you’ve probably heard of Adrian Sargeant, a professor of Indiana University and also in the UK and he said
“If you can only improve your donor retention by just 10%, you can double the lifetime value of your donor database.” So just think about that, that is really important. And the great news is that you really can increase the retention rate.
This is a chart that’s based on a sustainer giving study that’s done every year amongst 25 big organizations in the US and also they do this internationally, and they look at those organizations that have 4,000 sustainers or more, 4,00 monthly givers; sustainers is typically another word that we’re using. Recurring donors is another word that we’re using for monthly givers. Just look at this, those donors that you have on your database, that are giving you one time donations, say they’re all giving to your holiday appeal that you’re doing right now, but they also become a recurring donor. The retention rate can go up to 95%, so just think about it, you went from 60% to 95%. So you’re basically going to triple, or quadruple the value of your donor database.
Okay, the other great news is that your donors are going to give you a lot more money. Just look at this, if you have 100 donors, that are giving you say, you get an average, you know, gift to your holiday appeal of $35 dollars, that brings in $3,500 a year. But what if you could convert those same 100 donors, that are still going to give you that $35, but now you just converted them to a $10 a month donor. So you’ve just quintupled the revenue that these donors are giving you, okay?
So I’m going to tell you a couple of best practices, I’m going to give you a couple of examples and like Steven said, we’re going to hopefully have some time for questions at the end.
So the first best practice is that you want to do your research, and that’s why you’re here today, but the other great thing is, if you know your competitors, if you will, we don’t call them that, but if you know your competitors or other organizations that are like yours, that are doing similar types of missions, see if they already have a monthly giving program. And join that. Just give them $5 or $10 a month, so it’s a great way to do research. You see what your competitors are doing, you see what their messaging is, so you can learn from that. So I would always do that, I join all of my client’s monthly giving programs, it’s just a great way to see what they’re doing.
The great news is that 21% of Baby Boomers are giving monthly, this is based on a generational giving study. So just think about, if you have 21% of your donors giving monthly, wouldn’t that be, that would be fantastic. So that’s what we’re going to go for. The other great news is that the online monthly giving is really, really growing. If you look at this, 16% of online revenue last year came from monthly giving. Sixteen percent, that’s one-fifth okay? And that was already an increase of 25% compared to the year before. So there’s really a great, positive trend in monthly giving. So I have to tell you, I’m from the Netherlands originally. I’ve been here 21 years now and in Europe, people are very, very comfortable giving monthly. Everybody puts their bank account number everywhere on their letterhead. So it’s almost like a way of life, so most organizations there have 60 to 80% of their donors giving monthly. Some don’t even ask for one-time donations anymore. Now we’re not there yet in this country, but it’s definitely growing.
Okay, so the next best practice is that all of the typical fundraising rules apply, and we’re going to show those in this presentation, but there’s one difference. One of the big recommendations I make is when you’re starting a monthly giving program, and you’re here to learn, really one person must own the program. So I don’t mean to say that you have to do everything, but you have to own the program. So you have to be in charge of all the different pieces. So I’m putting you here in the middle and you’ve got, you’re almost like a spider in the web, you’re working on your website or online, your donors, your donor base, work with those people that are answering the phones, actually raising the funds, work with your finance people, accounting, work with your program folks, and if you have a marketing department, get involved with them. Okay, so you really are involved in everything and you must be in charge of that. Really important.
So, the best practice is I recommend the name. So if you already have a program and you have a name let’s, let me see what that’s called I’d love to see it. So I recommend that you have a name for the program, it just makes the whole recognition piece better, and easier, it makes the donors feel special. These are really committed donors and they’re going to stay with you for a very, very long time. Research shows that typical monthly donors can stay with an organization five to seven years at a minimum. I’ve seen organizations that have been running this program for a lot longer than that, and they even have donors that are still giving them monthly for over 20 years. So you really want to treat these people specially.
The other thing is, you really want to think through what you’re going to tell them, how you’re going to recognize them, so that’s very important. We’re going to think this through first because it makes the marketing piece a lot easier. What I see is a lot of organizations saying “Aw well I just started this program and I got a couple of new monthly donors, now what? Oh I got to do a thank you letter, oh I got to do something.” So then it’s this start-stop-start-stop, well that doesn’t really help anybody, okay? So think it through now and you’ll benefit from that later.
The other piece is why it’s important to recognize, organize that recognition piece now is, because it will help you in, you know, what I call the promises, okay? So where, what are you going to promise those donors, that they’re going to get? How are you going to be recognized? What are you going to do with their information? Okay?
So here’s an example of what I find a lot of donors actually really appreciate, a simple certificate, 8.5×11, you can just do it in house, okay? You just send that out right away with some letter via what I call snail mail. Okay, so one question people ask me is, “Should I thank monthly donors every month?” The answer is no. You really do not need to thank your monthly donors every month. In fact the donor would say, “Well that’s kind of a waste of money. I want to support your mission. I want to give monthly. It’s a simple way for me, and it’s a good way for you as an organization.” So don’t send the monthly thank yous.
Do send them a tax receipt in January. It’s a nice service, you can give them another thank you so much for being a “Champions of Justice,” a member of the “Champions of Justice” or “Faithful Friends,” I’m looking a couple of the names you’ve given me here. All right. “You’ve just spawned hope helping our path electronically,” I love that one. Into the works, so there are a lot of great names here that I see. Okay, so recognize your donors in the thank you letter in January and say well here is a list of the donations that you’ve made and that obviously includes their annual fund appeal donations as well.
So one thing that is important, and again we’re going to talk about the ways to give later but there are some systems that generate what I call receipts, they’re not really thank you’s. So it’s really important to remember that, so here is an example, is if you are for PayPal well this is what you get. That’s not really making me very excited, that’s not very warm and fuzzy, all right? So you want to do something like this, so if you can, you know, if you have a video that’s always great, I mean I know a lot of organizations are doing thank you videos for their annual meetings, things like that. But you don’t have to do a video, but just make it warm and fuzzy, okay? Talk to the donor about the impact of the gift. It’s no different than from thanking a donor for their regular donation, you always want to tell them what their money has done. And again, never, you can never say thank you enough, so put the thank you right there, it’s very simple.
One of the things that I recommend is that if you are sending out emails to your donors make a segment in your MailChimp or ConstantContacts and send the regular email appeal to them, but the first line will say, “Thank you so much for being one of our Faithful Friends. Your gift really makes a difference.” And then go into the email that you’re going to send to every donor. Okay? That’s all you have to do, it doesn’t have to be very complicated. I’m trying to make this very, very easy for all of you.
To talk about the promises that I mentioned earlier, here is an example of an organization and they put their promise right there on the website, and it says “For tax purposes you will receive one gift acknowledgment in January, and your credit card bill will also serve as a monthly record.” So tell them right up front what they’re going to get.
So let’s look at these donation pages and these landing pages, okay? And again the way I’ve set up this presentation is I’m starting with the least amount of resources, in terms of money, first. So we’re going to start promoting this program online. So the best practice is that you can add your recurring piece right to your donation page. And you also do have to have a special landing page, because you never know how a donor is going to get to the website. I’m going to give you a couple of examples.
Now here is, I don’t know if there are probably some Bloomerang users in here, so Bloomerang has this wonderful tool that you can build your new donation page and it says the recurring donation is right on there, and it allows the donors to select the frequency and you can select the start date. So that’s really very easy for you to use. Now if you’re using Network for Good, again this is another thing that smaller organizations use, I would like to make this recurring donation deducted monthly, great, very simple to see. This is Greater Giving, I’d like my donation to recur. A lot of the donor based systems have this recurring giving option built in them, and if they don’t for some reason, ask because they may be working on it. Okay?
Talk about the start date, here’s an example of a donation form that has that start date right built in. So whatever way you can make the donor, make it easier on the donor, the more likely it is that they are going to do that. And what I like about this page too is that it has that really has that monthly giving program, it kind of confirms to the donor why it’s important to join this program and how it makes a difference.
One thing, I have seen it, do not ever put an end date on a recurring giving donation page. If you have it, get rid of it. So the reason is, if you ask a donor to come up with an end date, they’re probably going to tell you the end of the year, right? They’re not going to tell you five years from now, right? So what happens is you have an end date on there, you’re going to loose them, so basically after a couple of months. So that’s not what you want. I mean recurring donors will continue to give basically until they stop for some reason or they pass away. So you want to make it easy and you don’t want to ever ask for an end date. So that’s great.
So to talk about the importance of asking for monthly giving. The easier you make it, to have it right on the donation page, the more likely the donor is going to join. So what this library does is, they actually talk about monthly giving before they talk about single, one-time donations. They’re calling their monthly donors subscribers, so it’s right then and there, you can’t miss it. All right. Here’s an example of a bigger organization, they’re offering a gift for joining, you really don’t have to offer a gift, in fact I would discourage it, but some bigger organizations, they have gifts now for when they mail out their appeals, so those donors are kind of conditioned to want a gift, but most of you are probably not going to need that. And again this is a bigger organization, they have a video. But what I do like about this page and again you can probably do this very simple, is a question and answer piece. Okay, what happens when I join as a monthly donor?
One of the things I want to mention is a trend that you see right now, I mean we’ve had some credit card breaches going on recently as you see, as you know, like Target, Home Depot, some of our local supermarkets even. So people get a little more concerned about the credit cards and there are a lot of changes in credit cards. So what more and more organizations are starting to do is actually offer an electronic funds transfer option, which is the way to give to through bank account. Now in this country, giving through a bank account is the hardest sell, it also has the highest retention rate. You’re looking at 95 to 98% of people who give you their bank account information, they’re going to stay with you. But it’s the hardest process to sell donors to monthly giving, but if they like you, if they’ve been with you for awhile, if they trust you, you’re going to be more likely to convert them to electronic funds transfer.
Okay, so here’s an example of what St. Jude did. They have a credit card option and then they have the check option right online. Okay, now the key with that electronic fund transfers still requires the organization to have a signature on file so that the donor actually has to fill out the information, and send it back with their signatures. So that can be a little bit of a hurdle, but again, it is growing so I just want to mention that that’s an option. If you’re in the process of setting it up now, you want to make sure you have that option included in your package.
The next best practice is you want to organize your back office. Really, really important. So you want to make sure that once you start this process, that you track how many donations you were expecting and how many donations you’re actually being charged. And I find especially for a lot of smaller organizations that if you have one charge date, like say the first of the month, it’s easier to say “Okay, well I was expecting 50 monthly donations to be charged, I only got 46, what happened?” So then you can go back to these donors and try to get them back, because that’s really important.
The longer you wait to try to get someone who dropped out for whatever reason, the more likely you’ve actually lost them. So it’s really, really important to track those payments right away. And if you’ve outsourced that or if you’ve delegated that to somebody in your finance make sure that they call you right away and say “Hey, I was expecting 50 payments and I only got 46, here are the people that dropped out, can you contact them right away?”
One of the other trends that’s happening right now is what they call account update or recycling, it’s something that works in the back-end with your credit card merchant piece, and it basically says well here are the four credit card donations that were declined, let me now go into this other database and see if I have the updated information. You have to pay a little bit extra for it but it’s very minimal charge, and if you can talk to your credit card merchant and say hey, can you see if you can add in the account update or account recycling piece, they may be interested and willing to do that. And if you have any questions I’m happy to send you some recommended vendors for the piece, because again, it’s a pretty new trend that’s happening right now. But it will help you prevent some of these drop-offs because that’s important, we want to keep these donors giving monthly, right?
So, let’s start marketing. Again you’ve done all the work, you’ve thought through the whole process, you’ve got the recognition piece in place, the thank you letters written, all right now we can start marketing. Those organizations that are most committed to growing this program really put monthly giving front and center. So that’s the more they ask about it, the more likely they’re going to grow their program. So one of the things that’s really important is you want to make it easy to find. I talked to this organization today “Wow, I’ve got this great monthly giving program.” And then I look it up their website and its like “Well, where is it?” Okay. “Well you have to have this link.” Well not everybody knows what that link is.
So if you have a pull down menu on your website, make sure that it’s the second option, or the third option, but it’s right front and center so that the donor knows where to go. And if you click on that link to go to monthly giving, this is a landing page, that has everything built in so that the donor can fill out their monthly donation amount, their address information, it talks about specific amounts, and again Habitat has the beauty of, it’s easy to say well $10 for a box of nails, or $50 for X, Y, Z, but you can make your amounts specific simply by saying “A gift of $8 a month, that’s 25 cents a day, will do X.” So you can try and make it as specific as possible because donors are going to like that. They’re going to look for it and say “Okay how is my gift going to make a difference?” And the more specific you can be the better off you are.
But this page talks about “become a home builder today and enjoy hassle free monthly donations.” Well that’s positioned as a benefit to the donor, right? Of course it’s very simple and easy for Habitat, but they make it easy for the donor and the knowledge that your donation is put to work immediately, great language, and you’re given a summary for tax purposes, that comes back to that promise piece, and then the ability to change or suspend your donation anytime. The only thing I would not do here is mention the word suspend or stop or cancel, just put there the ability to change your donation at any time. Changing, canceling is also changing but you’re not putting ideas in the donor’s head that they can simply stop.
So coming back to the make it easy to find, here’s what Habitat also does, if you click on the donation page, then it goes to their donation page. But get this, they put their “yes, I want to make a monthly gift of” and then “I want to make a single gift” right underneath it. So again, they put monthly giving totally front and center. So it’s again, the donor says “Well, yeah, maybe I should do the $10 a month.” So it’s a great way to put that in there.
Here’s another landing page that offers that back-end premium the Red Cross has, the Red Crossers are pin people so they like getting pins as a campaign. So also just look at the fact that you can really, very simply, because I know you have a lot of “In Honor of” or “In Memory of” options that you want to build in, here is a simple way that you can still make sure that this monthly donation is “In Honor of” or “In Memory of,” so just add that to the page.
All right, so one big question people ask me is how do I, start with the ask amount, how do I build that. And the rule of thirds applies, and I’ll show you in a minute. But the other thing is, if you’re in the process of building a program, you want to start asking low. You can ask low and you’ll get a high response, and you can upgrade later. Most of my clients we upgrade once a year. So they’ve been giving monthly and once a year we go back and say would you like to be willing to give another $2 or $3 a month? And a lot of them do that, because they’re comfortable with it, they like what you do, you’ve been treating them the right way, so they’re very willing to say, oh yeah life’s gotten more expensive so why not.
So the rule of thirds, here’s how that works. If you’ve, say your typical appeal is you get $35, and again I’m looking at the smaller donors, those donors that are giving less than $100, that’s my target group here, I’m not looking at a mid-level program, I’m not looking at the thousand dollar major donors, okay? I’m looking at my small, say that group gives an average of $35, so I take that $35 and I divide that by three, so I start with $10 or $15 and then go up to 15, 20, 35. Don’t start with 35, it’s too high, people are going to say well that was a stretch for me already, I just can’t do this every month, but I can do $10 a month.
And if you have even lower amounts that you get for your holiday appeal, $15, so start with $5 and then go up, okay? I’ve seen that this works really, really well. And you know this is an example of UNICEF, they just like ask for $5, and they’re always, you’re not, you know like the Dutch have this expression like “Who doesn’t honor the small, is not worthy of the big.” So that’s really a valid thing here, okay, so if you’re happy with $5 a month, that’s $60 a year, that’s still more than you were getting before. So here’s an example of an organization, 75 meals equals $25 a month, again you can make it as specific as possible per month and that works really, really well.
Here’s an example of what we see that the trends are in average monthly donations, and it differs by the type of organization. I don’t have any details on for like arts organizations, but typically, animal welfare gets $13 a month, I work with a lot of religious organizations that tend to get $9 a month, international folks usually get like $26 a month they have a lot of tele-sponsorship, environmental is lower, but the average monthly gift is $20 a month. So that’s $240, so that is a lot of money, right? A lot of money you didn’t have before.
So the next question is, when can you ask? You really can ask as soon as somebody joins, as soon as somebody gives a first gift. I’ve been doing this for years for several organizations I work with and it works really, really well. You can also ask as often as you like, unless somebody says look, you’ve asked me five times now to join as a monthly donor, I’m just not going to do it, I’d like to write my checks, that’s it. You can ask as often as you like, again it all depends on how quickly you want to grow. You can also ask any time of the year. There is no bad time to ask for a monthly donation.
So here’s and example of Food for the Poor, this is a welcome email. Somebody just gave a donation online, here it is, it is a welcome email and it says at this time, we’d ask that you consider joining the monthly giving club. Can’t be any more specific than that, and Food for the Poor actually has three monthly giving clubs, so they have different programs, but let’s start with one. So this is a great little email.
So we set up this donation page, we’ve set up the landing page, now you can start driving to the web in a lot of different ways. And I don’t know if you’re doing ads online, that’s a great way to start growing your program, you see some of those bigger organizations are doing that but you can certainly start with Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and YouTube. Any social media, you’ve got the landing page set up, you’ve got the donation page set up, so make sure that people go there and say “Hey can you make a $5 a month or $10 a month.”
So we set up all the basics, now we can go to a little more elaborate activities. Okay, so you can use email, and one of the things I’ve seen that works really, really well when you’re using, doing an email appeal is to have a challenge and a deadline in place. So do any of you have, get, you know, matching gifts or matching challenges now, especially now and with Giving Tuesday maybe coming up, saying “Hey you know I have a donor that comes up and says look I’ll give you $5,000 if you generate 15 new monthly donors. You can use that in your email appeal. Works like a charm.
The library I go to here locally, they had a $10,000 challenge and they generated a hundred subscribers and then the donor liked that so much that he says “Okay I’m going to give you another $10,000 challenge.” So all of a sudden they had 200 new subscribers that they are supporting their ongoing revenue. So that’s just fantastic.
So here’s an example of an email that says, “Will you be the one to help us reach our goal?” Make a monthly gift, receive a special pin, and again the goal here is they want to generate a thousand new monthly donors. So they had a series of emails that they used and this worked really, really well.
This is another one that there is actually some big money involved, in this case Habitat was able to get a $250,000 challenge which obviously it’s, we wish we had that in our pocket everyday, but it worked like a charm to generate again, a number of new monthly donors. Now again it doesn’t have to be huge, it can be 5,000 or 10,000 or more, but if you have a donor that’s willing to give you a match, that’s the area to use it to begin. With email you can build up to that deadline, you can say hey, we’ve got 50 more to go, we have 25 more to go, and it works really, really well. And they built it all in their email newsletter and they did a series of three emails to coincide building up to the deadline.
So, we’ve done the email, you’re doing this a couple of times a year so your program is growing, now let’s look at some other media that you can use, okay? So here is, we’ve got mail, it still works. I love this little chart, ten years ago ding, you’ve got mail, now it’s like 436 unread emails and everybody loves looking at the mail, it still works. So if you have a newsletter, and I know that a lot of you probably do, if you have a newsletter, a snail mail newsletter that you’re sending to your donors put in a donor testimony or somebody that’s joined your giving program. Here’s an example, “