In the Trenches: Building a Monthly Giving Program
If Sir Isaac Newton had been a fundraiser, his first law might have read: “A donor at rest tends to stay at rest, and a donor who contributes regularly tends to keep contributing.”
But most nonprofit organizations defy Newton’s Law. Today, most contributors sporadically give small amounts and respond infrequently. They force charities into expensive searches for new low-dollar donors to compensate for the unpredictable contribution stream.
I think Newton would have kept contributions coming by creating a monthly giving program. Often called “sustainers” or “committed givers,” monthly donors provide a predictable revenue stream at very low cost to the organization.
Consider this: A nonprofit with 80,000 donors that can convert 5 percent of its file to monthly giving — with half the sustainers giving $5 a month and the other half giving $10 a month — will realize $360,000 in gross revenue from sustainers alone.
For example, Linda King, the sustaining membership coordinator for the Friends of Iowa Public Television Foundation, indicates that her organization’s current sustainer program generates $234,000 a year with an average annual gift of $138.
“If you’re not offering a sustain[er] program, you’re leaving money on the table,” she says. “Monthly dollars help cash flow and come from donors who make great planned-giving candidates.”
But remember, campaigns waged late in a fiscal year take revenue from converted, single-gift givers and defer a portion of it to the next fiscal year. It’s only a one-time problem, but you definitely should prepare for it.
Prospecting for sustainers
To find sustainers, simply look to your own donor base.
Helen Kennedy, a partner at nonprofit consultancy Lewis-Kennedy Associates, which works with many public broadcasters, recommends soliciting donors who already are on installment programs, give frequent additional gifts and are premium driven.
“Be sure to upgrade them or else you’re just robbing one program to put revenue in another,” Kennedy adds.