On the Road to 1,000 Monthly Donors
My favorite part about working with nonprofits is how much we can learn from each other. I learn from their questions every day.
I am blown away with how smart people at nonprofits are, and how committed they are to the cause. And how (fortunately) many are really committed to growing their monthly gifts, because they see the power.
I recently asked someone from a nonprofit if they were interested in an interview with me. Sami Sheehan, manager of donor engagement at Lollypop Farm, Humane Society of Greater Rochester, was gracious enough to spend an hour on the phone with me to tell me about her journey to growing the organization's program to 1,000 monthly donors.
Sheehan has been with Lollypop Farm for five and a half years. Lollypop Farm covers the Greater Rochester area, about one million people in four counties.
Like so many nonprofits, Sheehan wears multiple hats. She oversees the direct mail, some online giving, Facebook and some third-party fundraiser programs, and even a mid-level donor caseload.
Lollypop Farm’s monthly donor program is called Fur-Ever Yours, and it has 927 monthly donors, with the goal to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. Its average monthly gift is $15 and median monthly gift is $25. Lollypop uses Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge and Luminate Online.
I asked Sheehan about her biggest success, and her answer was not what you would expect — but it makes a lot of sense. It ties back to the fact that so many people still do not quite understand the value of monthly giving.
Lollypop Farm’s biggest monthly donor breakthrough came when the Fur-Ever Yours budget was separated from other budgets, so people could see how much the program grew exponentially. Monthly donors used to be mixed into the offline and online program; now they have their own line item.
Once the organization saw this, it was able to start focusing on monthly giving even more. The organization was able to see a major jump in the number of monthly donors in 2017.
Expenses are still recorded as part of the direct mail program, especially in which some of the materials invite Fur-Ever Yours monthly donors to make an extra gift, but not all.
Current stewardship program to monthly donors consists of:
- Thank-you letter/welcome pack.
- Thank-you call
- Two newsletters: one has no ask and one includes an upgrade ask
- Holiday card with a one-time gift ask
- One impact report without an ask.
Lollypop Farm is using multiple strategies to grow the Fur-Ever Yours Monthly Giving Program. A special monthly giving direct mail appeal is done in the spring. A telemarketing campaign focused on monthly giving takes place in the spring and fall. In addition, Lollypop Farm does social media ads, directing to their website.
Many email appeals have a link to monthly gifts in the P.S., and 75% of direct mail appeals have a P.S about monthly gifts with a tick box on the form.
One of the largest points of new monthly giving acquisition happens during the Lollypop Farm Tails of Hope Telethon in the spring. The event is live from a local mall and is broadcasted for six hours on two local television affiliate’s stations and their streaming. Volunteers and people from the area answer phone calls, with 11 people manning the phones for six hours. After the event, shelter staff provide pictures of the animals. They include them along with a handwritten thank-you note to showcase what the future looks like for the animals.
The most successful approach in acquiring new monthly donors was the “Help us reach 50 new Fur-Ever Yours monthly donors and unlock $10,000” challenge. Lollypop Farm is fortunate to be able to repeat this several times a year. It is truly amazing what a match approach can do.
The biggest challenge is growing the program, especially when so many donors still want to mail checks. Many are simply not ready to make a gift through a credit card or go online to donate. Sheehan is hopeful, though, that this challenge will help more donors decide to go for it.
Of course, I had to ask how Lollypop Farm fared during the COVID-19 crisis.
Fortunately, this year’s telethon was done on March 7, the week before the shutdown. During shutdown week (March 13), the organization had just sent out a direct mail appeal, which generated 37 new monthly donors. Sheehan immediately started making thank-you calls to as many monthly donors as possible. All in all, it only had 10 cancellations total.
Sheehan is always looking to improve the process to keep its Fur-Ever Yours donors. The organization is fortunate enough to have a credit card updater service. If that doesn’t work, she immediately sends a personal email and makes a phone call right away. Then the next month, she sends a letter.
She says it well:
“You must be organized and have a system in place. Monthly giving is not a bake sale!”
Finally, I asked about upgrades. Upgrades are typically done using the newsletter approach.
When I asked Sheehan about the greatest opportunity for the Fur-Ever Yours program, she told me:
“If we keep up the pace, we’ll be close to 1,000 monthly donors by the end of 2020. But we have not yet done much about conversion to EFT. That’s the next opportunity.”
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.