Your backend: The most important element of your nonprofit’s monthly giving program

July 8, 2013

The wider adoption of monthly giving (also known as regular giving or sustained giving) in the United States could itself transform philanthropy.The lifetime value of supporters giving in this way is estimated to be 600 to 800 percent higher than the annual giving (also known as cash giving) (McKinnon, 1999).
Growing Philanthropy in the United States
Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang

Imagine that: monthly giving has the power to transform philanthropy! A longtime staple of fundraising programs in the UK, the word is out and monthly giving is beginning to take off in the United States.

But monthly giving won’t transform your organization — unless you first figure out the most important element of your monthly giving program. No, it’s not the theme you decide upon. It’s not even how compelling your offer is, or your mailing list. The most important factor of your organization’s monthly giving program is your back-end.  What policies and procedures does your organization have in place to ensure that donors who have made that extra commitment to give monthly to your organization are happy with their decision?

I asked donor retention expert and copywriter Lisa Sargent for her advice on stewarding monthly donors and here is what she said:

Some “best practices” I’d recommend based on direct experience and personal research:
1.) Don’t stop communicating (read as: asking). When donors commit to monthly giving, they somehow enter a kind of donor communications wasteland (at one organization I know of, they actually were taken off ALL mailing lists, for fear that if a stray Ask crept in, mutiny would follow… when in fact, the opposite is true: relevant, regular well-crafted asks have been shown to increase engagement).

To steward sustainers, you can and should keep sending appeals (easy to modify and acknowledge their regular giving status) — at one organization, they would simply have me remove the hard Asks, add a very soft Ask with no amounts, and add several thank-yous for donors’ steady support. It worked well.

Another way to look at Asks: let’s say I’m a monthly giver, and your organization has an emergency. As one of your most committed supporters, I’d welcome a chance to help out, but if you don’t give me that chance, you won’t get the gift. Capisce?

You should also offer the chance to upgrade monthly giving amount…and don’t forget bequest appeals!

2.) Send them special versions of your regular communications. One of my clients encloses a one-sheet note from the president especially for monthlies and majors along with the quarterly newsletter. Of course, it’s labeled as such: President’s Report for Major Donors and Name-of-Giving Club of CharityName. The letter shares “inside” info — including stuff like how the builder walked off the job of a capital campaign project leading to a delay, etc. — and it also says thank you. A lot.

3.) Periodically offer them special opportunities: events, guided tours, president’s breakfasts, mentoring opportunities etc. And make it very clear that this is an exclusive event. I’ve done this with more than one client.

4.) Send special thank yous. One of my past clients had published a number of great coffee table books. They would send surplus editions as thank yous to loyal/ recurring/major donors during the holidays.

5.) Remember to have in place routine communications like renewals, cancellations, tax summaries, etc. Good donor stewardship means following up with a sustainer if their credit card expires, or they suspend payment. Maybe, for example, they’d simply prefer to take 1 or 2 months off each year instead of canceling altogether — but if you have no follow-up in place, you’ll never know.

What has my experience as a donor been?

Out of the 30 or so nonprofit organizations that I contribute to every year, I am a monthly donor to three organizations. I’m into my second year as a monthly donor for the first organization…and have received virtually nothing since an initial direct mail thank you letter over a year and a half ago. I contacted them when my automatic payment was set to expire. The second organization, a national media organization has yet to thank me at all, either via email or direct mail. And the third organization responded to my monthly gift with an automated email thank you, followed by a warm personal email, followed by a heartfelt personal handwritten card.

Disclaimer: the third organization had participated in my Monthly Giving | The Basics & More! course.

In an age of bright and shiny new objects, economic uncertainties and continued donor attrition, the future of fundraising lies in creating deeply personal relationships with your donors. Make sure your organization’s back-end is in place.  Walk through every step of the donor experience.

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