Monthly Giving Mastery: Bolster Your Back-End
“The wider adoption of monthly giving (also known as regular giving or sustained giving) in the United States could itself transform philanthropy. The lifetime value of supporters giving in this way is estimated to be 600 to 800 percent higher than the annual giving (also known as cash giving) (McKinnon, 1999).”
— Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang, “Growing Philanthropy in the United States”
Lately I’ve been asking myself an important question, and it’s one I encourage all fundraisers to ask themselves often: What has my experience as a donor been?
Out of the hundreds of nonprofit organizations that I contribute to every year, I am a monthly donor to several. I’m in my second year as a monthly donor for one organization—and have received virtually nothing since an initial, direct-mail, thank-you letter more than a year and a half ago. I contacted the organization when my automatic payment was set to expire.
Another organization, a national media organization, has yet to thank me at all, either via email or direct mail. And yet another organization responded to my monthly gift with an automated thank-you email; followed by a warm, personal email; followed by a heartfelt, personal, handwritten card.
Disclaimer: The third organization had participated in my “Monthly Giving: Basics and More” course.
Did you know monthly giving has the power to transform philanthropy? A longtime staple of fundraising programs in the U.K., the word is out and monthly giving is beginning to gain traction in the U.S. It’s a valuable tool, so now is the time for your organization to seize the opportunity to use it, and to use it properly.
But monthly giving won’t transform your organization unless you go about it the smart way. This means, first and foremost, figuring out the most important element of your monthly giving program. No, it’s not the theme you decide upon. It’s not even how compelling your offer is, or the size of your mailing list. The most important factor of your organization’s monthly giving program is your back-end. What policies and procedures does your organization have in place to ensure that donors who have made that extra commitment to give monthly to your organization are happy with their decisions?
I asked donor-retention expert and copywriter Lisa Sargent for her advice on stewarding monthly donors, and here is what she said:
Some “best practices” I’d recommend, based on direct experience and personal research:
1. Don’t stop communicating (read as: asking). When donors commit to monthly giving, they somehow enter a kind of donor-communications wasteland. At one organization I know of, [monthly giving donors] actually were taken off all mailing lists for fear that if a stray ask crept in, mutiny would follow … when in fact, the opposite is true: Relevant, regular, well-crafted asks have been shown to increase engagement.
To steward sustainers, you can and should keep sending appeals (easy to modify and acknowledge their regular giving status[es]). At one organization, [it] would simply have me remove the hard asks, add a very soft ask with no amounts, and add several thank-yous for donors’ steady support. It worked well.
Another way to look at asks: Let’s say I’m a monthly giver, and your organization has an emergency. As one of your most committed supporters, I’d welcome a chance to help out, but if you don’t give me that chance, you won’t get the gift. Capisce?
You should also offer the chance to upgrade monthly giving amount[s]—and don’t forget bequest appeals!
2. Send them special versions of your regular communications. One of my clients encloses a one-sheet note from the president, especially for [monthly donors] and [major donors], along with the quarterly newsletter. Of course, it’s labeled as such: “President’s Report for Major Donors and Name-of-Giving Club of Charity Name.” The letter shares “inside” info—like how the builder walked off the job of a capital-campaign project leading to a delay, etc.—and it also says thank you. A lot.
3. Periodically offer them special opportunities. [Think] events, guided tours, president’s breakfasts, mentoring opportunities, etc. And make it very clear that this is an exclusive event. I’ve done this with more than one client.
4. Send special thank-yous. One of my past clients had published a number of great coffee-table books. [The client] would send surplus editions as thank-yous to loyal, recurring [and] major donors during the holidays.
5. Remember to have in place routine communications, like renewals, cancellations, tax summaries, etc. Good donor stewardship means following up with a sustainer if [his or her] credit card expires, or [the individual] suspend[s] payment. Maybe, for example, [he or she would] simply prefer to take one or two months off each year instead of canceling altogether—but if you have no follow-up in place, you’ll never know.
Remember Stephen Covey’s second habit to “Begin With the End in Mind,” and set up your monthly giving processes right—right from the start.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.