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Don’t Stop Now! How to keep growing your monthly giving program

“We tested it, and it didn’t work.”

If your organization has a monthly giving program in place, you may have heard this statement from your board or CEO. Harvey McKinnon noted that this is the most irritating misconception about nonprofit monthly giving programs -- and I concur. While monthly giving is one of the best steps you can take to improve donor retention and increase donor loyalty, the mere process of establishing your program isn’t enough.

You’ve got to work it.

If your organization has a monthly giving program and it’s been relegated to a check off box on your direct mail response device, or an additional option to online giving, read on to learn ways to grow your monthly giving -- and upgrade your current recurring donors.

Recently, Gail Perry and I were chatting about the topic of monthly giving stewardship during a webinar. I noted that I had made monthly gifts to a handful of organizations -- and hadn’t received so much as a thank you letter or follow up communication. Gail has had the same experience with a monthly gift she makes.

Yikes.

Do you labor under the mistaken belief that once a donor has made the commitment of a recurring gift that you’re best off leaving your new monthly donors alone? Have you cut your monthly donor from the communications cycle under the harebrained assumption that you “don’t want to bother them?” Nothing could be further from the truth. Read on to discover some tips on making your sustaining givers feel like the special partners they are.

Keeping ‘em

When it comes to best practices for monthly giving stewardship, I turned to the best, renowned copywriter Lisa Sargent, creator of SOFII’S famed Thank You Letter clinic.[1]

Following you’ll find some "best practices" recommended by Lisa and 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, they 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) -- at one organization, they 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. Capiche?

You should also offer the chance to upgrade the monthly giving amount...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 monthlies and majors, along with the quarterly newsletter. Of course, it's labeled as such: President's Report for Major Donors and Name-of-Giving Club of CharityName. The letter shares "inside" info -- including stuff 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
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. They would send surplus editions as thank yous to loyal/recurring/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 their credit card expires, or they suspend payment. Maybe, for example, they'd simply prefer to take 1 or 2 months off each year instead of canceling altogether -- but if you have no follow-up in place, you'll never know.

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Are you getting ideas for stewarding your monthly donors? As you think about how you’re communicating with your sustainers, think about different strategies that would work best for you -- and for your donors. Do you already have a regular event? If your event is a dinner, could you incorporate a special “members only” cocktail reception into it to celebrate your sustainers?

Thoroughly map out this process. When a new donor joins your monthly giving program, what happens next? How soon will they receive a thank you letter? Research shows that your online donors will stay with your organization longer if you follow their online gift with a snailmailed thank you letter. Do you have board members who are readily available to make a personal call to a new sustaining donor, thanking them for joining? Who will be taking care of the data entry? What communications are in place solely for your monthly donors? You might even think about appointing a board member or staff person as a test donor and have them go through the process of completing a monthly gift, either online or through the mail.

Growing your monthly giving

To be successful, I recommend incorporating at least one dedicated direct mail monthly giving ask every year in your communications calendar. If you’re acquiring new monthly donors primarily through email, you might consider more than one email ask per year, depending on your list.

Think, also, about developing a segmented Welcome Kit for all new donors -- one specific to new donors, which includes an upgrade to monthly giving (and is sent within six weeks of your thank you letter), and another which recognizes your sustainers for the amazing donors they are. Consider including a short survey with a self-addressed stamped envelope with your Welcome Kit. My experience has been that donors love to give feedback.

Once a monthly donor has been in your system for 12 months, it’s an easy enough pitch to ask them: “Would you like to go from $10 – $20?” Think about creative ways you might accomplish this. I’ve found having board members involved in stewardship to be an excellent method of getting them over their “fear of fundraising.” Perhaps your board members could be involved in a telephone upgrade campaign. Create a regular upgrade cycle for your program so you’re occasionally asking your monthly givers to help just a bit more.

Work your monthly giving program -- and you’ll be rewarded with better retention and increased donor loyalty.

Additional Resources

Monthly Giving | The Basics & More

Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant by Erica Waasdorp

Hidden Gold by Harvey McKinnon

Pamela GrowThe preceding is a guest post by author, coach, copy-writer, and nonprofit marketing consultant, Pamela Grow. Pamela is the author of Five Days to Foundation Grants, the first online grant-writing guide, the author of Simple Development Systems, and the founder of Simple Development Systems | The Membership Program, monthly training created exclusively for the overwhelmed fundraiser in the one-person marketing and development shop.

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[1] Reprinted from The Lifetime Donor Attraction System.

Topics: Fundraising Monthly Giving