Getting Forward to Normal: A Bump in the Road for Monthly Giving
For the past decade, only two things were certain every year: The Detroit Lions (my wife's favorite team) were not going to win a playoff game and digital monthly giving was going to increase by more than digital one-time giving. It was inevitable. Every year, people became more comfortable with monthly subscriptions, and charities asked for monthly gifts more often.
That was until last year. Per M+R's Benchmarks report, while monthly giving grew 25% year-over-year, one-time giving grew by 37%. (No, this doesn't mean the Lions are going to win a playoff game this year.)
Like so many things from 2020, we must ask whether it's sustainable. Did we see a reversal of a decade's long trend?
I'm viewing this as a bump in the road, and soon monthly giving growth will be outpacing one-time giving once again as nature intended. After all, in the good times and the bad, the sustainers are who you can count on. When the storms come, a disaster strikes or a pandemic shuts down a country, the sustainers will see you through because they have signed on for the long term — even through COVID-19, which changed giving behavior substantially, other than a small uptick in cancellations in April 2020.
But with the emergency, and corresponding increase in giving, continuing for nonprofits, it's tempting for organizations to go back to their get-a-gift-and-hope ways. Thankfully, there are some ways to keep attracting monthly givers even in what seem like single-giving times.
Don't Fear Monthly Giving on Single-Gift Occasions
Other than Dec. 31, there is probably no more single-gift focused day than Giving Tuesday. And yet, Classy found that, in 2020, donors made 261,000 one-time donations online and almost 20,000 monthly giving donations. on Giving Tuesday.
That doesn’t sound like a great case for monthly giving on Giving Tuesday except for two things. First, there’s growth. One-time giving grew 70% on Giving Tuesday; monthly giving grew 85%. In a year where one-time giving outgrew monthly giving, Giving Tuesday skewed toward monthly giving.
Second, multiply 20,000 by 12. That’s 240,000, meaning the yearly capacity of Giving Tuesday monthly donors is only slightly short of the 261,000 one-time Giving Tuesday donations. Now, that assumes 100% retention and ignores that monthly giving gifts are smaller on average than one-time gifts, and additionally, overlooks that there will be subsequent gifts from some one-time donors, but it does serve as a reminder that the initial number of gifts from a monthly gift are hardly the only important part.
You can work on monthly giving on Giving Tuesday without giving up one-time giving. For example, you can adopt the tactics of shadowboxing your site for monthly giving after someone has made a one-time gift. That way, you don’t lose your one-time gift, but you still give a person the opportunity to upgrade their giving to monthly status.
That’s not the only opportunity for an upgrade. Chances are you already have a welcome series for new donors, but, during December, you are probably using different messaging for your fundraising than usual. Perhaps you use different messaging for your new Giving Tuesday donors to match the season.
Giving Tuesday is also a good day to recognize your monthly donors and make them feel valued. It is certainly cheaper than trying to attract a new monthly donor. So monthly giving should be a consideration every time you are doing fundraising online.
Consider New Monthly Giving Products
Consider U.K.-based charity Scope, which focuses on equity for people with disabilities. It wanted to appeal to parents, so created Mindful Monsters, a card and activity set rolled out monthly to help parents instill mindfulness in their kids. With your 7.50-pound monthly or 75-pound annual gift, you get a starter pack with seven activity cards, a parent’s guide and monster stickers, with more activity cards sent each month to add to the set. The monsters focus on four themes of mindfulness: concentration, positivity, relaxation and creativity. Scope reports it was able to lower monthly donor acquisition costs by 75%, cut time to break even in half and retain these donors far better than average.
This wasn't a traditional monthly giving ask by any means — the organization created something only partly related to its mission, then sold it like a product (when it was functioning like a back-end premium). But it appealed to their target audience, which was valuable for both the organization and donor.
Explain Why It's Good for You
This is counterintuitive, but in every test I’ve seen of a message that focuses on what the monthly gift does for the donor (e.g., “it’s convenient for you”) versus what it does for the organization (e.g., “it allows us to be ready for emergencies”), the latter wins.
We’re taught, or at least we should be taught, to adopt a donor focus with things like “you” focused rather than organizational-focused messaging. But this is one of the cases where the donor’s goal is to have the greatest impact. You can focus on the donors then by sharing how they are having the maximum possible impact in the way they want to.
Go Multichannel and Customized
As a very wise direct marketer (and my boss) Gretchen Littlefield put it, "single-channel strategy is dead. It will not be missed." She goes on to say the only relevant distinction among channels is that some are addressable (mail, connected TV, telephone, some digital) and some are not (traditional DRTV, radio, PSAs, earned media, other digital).
With great addressability comes great responsibility. Because we live in a world where data abounds, we naturally assume a good marketer will know things about us and will use that knowledge. That means tailoring our pitch to donors and potential donors, which means learning more about why they are giving each time we talk with them. It means talking to them across channels. And it means that knowing the channel that influenced them isn't necessarily the channel they will transact through and neither of those is necessarily the channel through which you will cultivate them. For example, a monthly donor who gave by calling a number given in a radio ask may want follow-up emails, not a phone call or additional radio ads.
So fear not, intrepid monthly giving enthusiasts! Monthly giving will rise faster again if we keep focusing on these highly valuable long-term donors. There's far more hope here than for the Lions (although I hear they are only two years away again).
Editor's Note: This is the third part of the six-part series, Getting Forward to Normal.
Getting Forward to Normal
Part 1: What Ketchup Packets, Yeast and Nonprofit Mail Pieces Have in Common
Part 2: The Road Ahead for Museums and Cultural Institutions
Part 3: A Bump in the Road for Monthly Giving
Part 4: The Need for Digital Infrastructure
Part 5: Understanding What Business Nonprofits Are In
Part 6: The 2022 Fresh Start Effect
Nick Ellinger joined the Moore, where he works to increase the automation and customization of fundraising as chief brand officer, in January 2020. Before that, he was DonorVoice’s vice president of marketing strategy, working with organizations like Catholic Relief Services, Share our Strength | No Kid Hungry, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation to look at their fundraising with a different lens. He developed his direct fundraising muscle running Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s direct marketing program for a decade. He’s also the author of "The New Nonprofit" to challenge fundraising norms.