Internal Staff Can Delay Your Monthly Donor Program Growth
Nonprofits never cease to amaze me. Sometimes in a good way. Sometimes in a not so good way. This is one of those sad case studies.
I spoke to an organization recently, and its executive director told me they wanted to grow their monthly donor program—at least, that’s what he said at first.
They have some 500 sustainers who are worth more than $500,000, so they are very high average gifts. Because they’re limiting recruitment by in-person requests, they only grow with about 40 a year.
But the bigger concern was that in the past few months alone, they lost 25 monthly donors. That’s more than half of the number they brought in last year. If this continues, the program will deteriorate very quickly.
When I asked what the reason was for the cancellations, they indicated that many donors told them they couldn’t manage continuing at this level. The good news is that there’s an easy fix.
If you talk to your donor, why not offer them to continue giving monthly, but at a lower level? At least that way, you continue receiving some funds instead of zero. The fact that the donor calls you is a great opportunity to “negotiate.”
Then, I asked some questions about the processes they use to reach out to donors whose cards have expired or declined. They’re looking to change their database and online donation system, so at this stage, they’re not yet able to implement the account updater; but that’s another great opportunity.
Many donor base systems and online processors have started offering account updater (in essence, you tap into a huge database with updated card information, all tokenized and PCI-compliant), so please be sure to ask. You can catch some 25 to 30 percent of those “pesky” credit card expirations or declines, so they’ll continue to be processed automatically.
One solution is to try processing your cards multiple months in a row. Because there’s a timing issue, trying two or three months typically helps.
We then started talking about what else they do with monthly donors whose cards have expired or declined. In their current system, they’re able to see that the credit card is expiring a month ahead of time, so they can be proactive.
They send one email, and then they make one phone call if they have time. And they did start sending one text message. No letters yet. All aimed at getting the donor to call in with updated information, but there’s no link to an online “renewal’ page.”
More and more people may not be able to call during the day, so just offering the option to update the credit card information by calling is limiting.
The good news is that I think we can certainly make some improvements to the processes by adding some additional messaging, but the bad news is that the internal admin staff was very “reluctant to try anything new.”
Never mind when I offered a few ideas to grow the program. The admin staff was all of a sudden extremely hesitant. “Oh, I don’t think we want to handle more than 500 monthly donors!”
WHAT? Wait, didn’t the executive director just tell me you wanted to grow again? Just do the math!
So, this is a huge problem. If you have internal staff who will balk at every suggestion or is simply not willing to manage your monthly donor program, with the occasionally follow-ups needed, please, please find someone else who is willing to keep the existing and bring in new sustainers.
You’re not doing your donors or your program a favor if you rely on someone who is really not committed to your monthly donors.
You’re preventing future growth, so please ensure that whomever is handling your monthly donor program totally understands the tremendous power and is willing to do whatever it takes to grow the program to the next amazing level.
You’re asking your donors to commit to giving monthly for a long time, so make sure that your internal staff is committed to that same growth as well. If that’s not the case, consider your options.
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.