Check Your Monthly Donor Journey
I just attended Fundraising Day in New York, attended by almost 2,000 people. One of my favorite sessions was about sustainers, of course! It was led by great moderator Paul Habig from Sanky; and two experienced monthly donor fundraisers, Luke Franklin from the ASPCA with 400,000 (!) and Emily Stevenson from EDF with 20,000 monthly donors.
They presented the ways they acquired, cultivated and retained monthly donors. Both talked about the importance of creating that smooth monthly donor join experience and the need to be on top of what happens, especially in the first few months after joining.
Just a few tips and highlights that came out of this session:
- No matter how your monthly donor came in, it’s important to thank and engage with them right away—hence the welcome package and welcome calls to confirm that the sustainer meant to commit to a monthly gift. This will absolutely help your retention.
- Look at drop-off trends by month, but especially after month one, two and three. If someone signed up to be a monthly donor by accident, that’s when you’ll find out.
- Make sure you test your forms and make corrections as needed. For example, if you find that many donors call to cancel right away, you may need to make them enter in a much more committed form.
- Offering the monthly option first and the one-time gift option second helps increase the number of sustainers, but EDF for example does change it when they have a one-time gift match or during their busy giving season, as that’s when most donors just want to make a few clicks to make a one-time gift. You’d certainly not want them to sign up to be sustainers by accident. So test your monthly donor journey from start to finish.
- Invite your monthly donors to a special donor conference call or webinar. Both organizations found that it absolutely helped improve retention.
- Ask your sustainers for that 13th (extra gift) by sending a small number of special appeals with recognition of your monthly donor status. One example was adding a short thank-you message to a match email sent to your other donors. While there was no ask in the top part, many monthly donors scrolled down to the bottom of the email to donate.
- The telephone still works to bring in new monthly donors.
- Have account updater in place. It really helps you keep more monthly donors. If you can reach out to sustainers before their card expires, that’s even better.
- Consider your organization and overall goals and mission when deciding which types of monthly donor acquisition efforts to use. For example, canvassing may not work if you’re not comfortable having outsiders tell your organization’s story and messaging—no matter how well they’re trained.
- Be careful with system changes as it may require you to have your sustainers opt-in to the new system. This takes time and you’ll never be able to recapture everybody.
- Not everything you do with monthly donors can be automated. It may require some manual work, like a manual selection and upload in your email program to send out a reminder email. While it’s never ideal, it’s absolutely worth the work!
- Someone asked the question about auto-upgrades. Both ASPCA and EDF both felt they’re not good for the monthly donor journey. Getting that 13th gift or an upgrade ask during the year will actually generate more money and the donor is clear about committing to it. The comparison was made again with Netflix. Remember one of my earlier posts: for many, Netflix has become a basic need, like a phone. Donations are very different!
So, there you have it, a few practical tips from organizations who have been generating monthly donors for quite a while.
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.