A Monthly Giving How-To: Finding the Right Tools
This past week, I received several questions from nonprofit organizations about the best tools to use to process monthly gifts. In that same week, I received three emails from vendor partners offering me the latest and greatest on monthly gift payment processing tools.
Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve learned so far:
- Some say they waive fees for the first month. Others give money back. Some say they only charge $0.50 per transaction and no other fees. Some charge steep monthly fees. Some are much more affordable.
- Some use Stripe. Some offer credit cards and EFT/ACH/direct debits. Some include PayPal.
- Some feed gifts right into your donor base.
- Some allow you to change the amount for monthly gifts if you toggle the form between one-time and monthly gifts. Others do not. Some even say they use artificial intelligence.
- Some look easy. Others look more complicated to use.
- Some have great reports. Others, not so much.
- Some create a landing page and send monthly email receipts. Others make it more customizable.
- Some offer weekly, quarterly, monthly or annual options. Others offer only monthly options.
- Some offer the donor the option to pay for processing fees. Others do not.
- Some require a lot of customization and in-house staff. Others are very easy to create.
- Some require the donor to give their phone number. Others have a lot of “standard” stuff on top of the form.
- Some allow for some text on top of the form. Other forms have to sit on the website, and you can offer copy around it.
- Some require contracts. Others don’t.
- Some have email support only. Others have phone support, but you may have to wait a few days.
In other words, it’s all over the map.
One of these days, I hope to make an inventory of what’s available, but it keeps changing and evolving. And there’s no one solution for everybody. Because every organization is different, your technology solutions need to fit your nonprofit. It has to reflect where you are now and also where you want to be.
So before you abandon your current processor and jump to the next latest and greatest tool, do yourself a favor and ask yourself a few key questions: Look at the above list. What’s important to you? What is happening now in your organization? What do you like about what you’re using now? What don’t you like?
Then look at the below questions, write down the answers and then start the research:
- Who is the decision-maker on evaluating options for a new payment processor/online system? Make sure everybody who needs to be in the decision process is involved. You don’t want finance to make a decision without you as the fundraiser involved, right? You wouldn’t want IT or communications to make this decision without you as the fundraiser, right? Or worse, a board member? Create the evaluation team. Make sure that whomever is part of this team understands fundraising and donors.
- How many monthly donors do you have now? How have they come in? What are they receiving now from the system?
- Which donor base CRM are you using now, and are the online payment processes integrated? In other words, when the donor goes online, does the gift feed into the database in an easy manner without manual entry? Can you use it to do manual entries if a gift comes in offline?
- Are you using a separate payment processor now?
- Can you track the number of people who go to the form and leave versus those completing their gift? This is an indicator of how complicated the form is. What information are you asking for?
By the way, the folks at NextAfter do an amazing job testing everything, so if you’ve not yet looked at their studies, sign up for their updates and webinars.
- Can you create as many forms as you’d like so you can track different metrics (e.g. different ask levels based upon the group you’re looking to reach)?
- What kind of donor information do you need to track?
- When you send a campaign (e.g. through social media or an email directing the donors to the form), what are the results? How many people open the email, how many click through? How many people complete the monthly gift? How many donors complete the one-time gift?
- Do you get any feedback from donors about how hard or easy it is to donate?
- What is the built-in process for when monthly donor’s payments don’t come in?
- Do you have a contract with your payment processor, and does it say who owns your data?
- If you wanted to move away from your current processor, what happens to existing monthly donor data? The last thing you’d want to have happen is that you lose your existing sustainers. If you don’t have a contract with your payment processor now, where does that leave you?
- If worse comes to worse, can you afford to have two systems while you’re transitioning from one to the other?
Note: These are by no means the full list of questions to look at, but they help make a decision to stay or leave — or decide whether to add in a new solution slowly. Also, it’s important to remember that many CRMs have user forums and ask for improvements all the time, so what may not be there today could be there next month!
Tools are really important, but you may very well have the right tools for now in place. You may have some tools you’ve not even used. (Trust me, I see it all the time.) You may simply have to increase the number of opportunities for donors to start giving monthly using the tools you have.
So do some homework check out my accidental techie friend Maureen Wallbeoff's checklists and resources.
We’re working together to develop the best ways to evaluate recurring giving software, but the checklists she has there now will help you with the overall thinking and things you should put in place before you make any quick decisions. Because you certainly wouldn’t want to go through changing your payment platforms too soon if you don’t have to.
Erica Waasdorp is one of the leading experts on monthly giving. She is the president of A Direct Solution, a company serving nonprofit organizations with fundraising and direct marketing needs, with a focus on monthly giving and appeals. She authored "Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant" and "Monthly Giving Made Easy." She regularly blogs and presents on fundraising, appeals and monthly giving — in person and through webinars. She is happy to answer any questions you may have about this great way of improving retention rates for your donors.
Erica has over 30 years of experience in nonprofits and direct response. She helped the nonprofits she works with raise millions of dollars through monthly giving programs. She is also very actively supports organizations with annual fund planning and execution, ranging from copywriting, creative, lists, print and mail execution.
When she’s not working or writing, Erica can be found on the golf course (she’s a straight shooter) or quietly reading a book. And if there’s an event with a live band, she and her husband, Patrick, can be found on the dance floor. She also loves watching British drama on PBS. Erica and Patrick have two step sons and a cat, Mientje.