January 9, 2024 | Categories DonorPerfect Fundraising Software, Featured, Monthly Giving

Expert Q&A: Laying the Groundwork For Your Monthly Giving Program

Contributed by Erica Waasdorp, President of A Direct Solution

When I first started fundraising monthly, now more than 30 years ago, there were only mail and phone appeals. Face-to-face conversations had just started, and some nonprofits were putting their toes in the water with direct response TV. Now, things are quite different. Just about every payment processor and constituent relationship management system (CRM) allow donors to make automatic monthly payments online.

Even with online fundraising being so prevalent now, many nonprofits struggle to balance their short and long-term giving initiatives. I continue to be passionate about monthly gift programs (and the power of long-term revenue) because I believe it’s one of the most donor-focused ways of giving, and research shows that monthly donors tend to give more.

Seeing the tremendous potential of recurring gifts and the need for nonprofits to focus on sustainable revenue, I worked with DonorPerfect in 2015 to create the Monthly Donor Starter Kit and Monthly Donor Marketing Kit – free downloads for fundraisers.

For more free resources, visit our Monthly Giving Success Hub »

monthly giving form

To help with any fears you may have, I’m answering five questions I often get in regards to monthly and recurring giving:

  1. What advice do you have for organizations who are hesitant or fearful?
  2. What percentage of my donors can I expect to give monthly?
  3. What are your best tips for fundraisers who are just starting out?
  4. What advice do you have for organizations that want to level up their program?

How to Lay the Groundwork for Your Monthly Giving Program

with Monthly Giving Expert Erica Waasdorp

1. What advice do you have for organizations who are hesitant to start a monthly giving program?

Monthly giving is all about looking at long-term revenue and improving donor retention. Both goals are accomplished when you convert one-time donors to give monthly!

  • The best way to evaluate the value of monthly donors is by annualizing your annual revenue. So instead of saying, we just generated 10 new donors at $25 a month, think of them as 10 monthly donors who are worth $3,000 a year.  
  • Offering monthly giving is not expensive at all. It does not require special tools. It does not require you to get a new CRM. It’s simply a matter of offering donors the option to give monthly. It’s also not complicated because, in most cases, your payment processor already offers it. 
  • Once you create your monthly donor payment page online, start linking to it. Start referring to it everywhere and all the time. A button on the home page of your web site. An extra button in your emails. An extra button in your email newsletter. A separate line on your appeal reply form. A link in your social media posts. 
  • All it takes is a little bit of time. I advocate for fundraisers to start with one hour a week. Create your own Monthly Donor Monday session and take it from there. Get it out of the way early on and you can do other things. And as you apply some of these tips, you’ll see growth, slowly but surely. 
  • Share your wins with everybody in your organization, annualizing the value. What if you can double the number of monthly donors? What if you can triple them by adding just a few of the ideas above?

2. What percentage of my donors can I expect to give monthly?

Of course, it depends. Organizations that spend time focusing on their monthly donors can expect about 15-to-20% of their active donors to give monthly. These are typically your smaller donors, who give less than $250 single gifts.

Organizations that have focused on monthly giving for a while may see even higher percentages. For example, if you look at public TV and radio, some have 50-to-60% of their members give monthly.

For your first long-term goal, 15% would be a good place to start.

3. What are your best tips for fundraisers who are just starting out?

The key to monthly giving is that the better and more personal the donor experience is, the more likely donors are going to stay. After all, they’re giving you their credit card or bank account information. Donors will grow to trust you, which can only help with retention.

  • Assign someone in your organization who can be considered the monthly donor contact. Call it a concierge, a monthly donor coordinator, a monthly donor steward, or whatever you like. Create a special email address for them and have their phone number visible on your website and the monthly donation page. Whenever you communicate with new monthly donors, use that information.
  • Test your monthly donor pages and thank you messages. The best way to do that is by joining your own program as a monthly donor. How do the confirmation and thank-you messages make you feel? Make sure the donation experience is as seamless as possible.
  • Have offline thank yous in place. Just because someone starts a monthly commitment online doesn’t mean that’s the only way they want to hear from you. Don’t make that assumption. Who wouldn’t appreciate a handwritten note that comes within the first week of making their first monthly gift? And if you don’t have many staff, use volunteers. Use your board. Pre-write a bunch of messages if you have time, and then just fill in the donor’s name and your signature. Make the monthly donor feel special and loved right away.

4. What advice do you have for organizations that hope to level up their program?

Start planting the seeds of monthly giving. It’ll take a little bit of time and a little bit of effort but certainly not much in terms of investment. Donors want to help, and giving monthly may be the best way for many of them do so. As a fundraiser, you must tell donors that giving a small monthly gift is an option to consider.

First, look at where you are now. How many monthly donors do you have and what’s your average gift size? What’s their annualized value? That’s your benchmark. Then look at what you’ve done to get to your current number:

  • How often did you ask donors to consider a monthly gift and how? 
  • Did you send emails? 
  • Did you add buttons? 
  • Did you ask your current donors for testimonials/reasons why they’re giving monthly? Do you have that somewhere on your website? Have you used it in your email newsletter or your printed newsletter? 

Remember, it’s literally just a matter of including the opportunities in your messaging. You have donors who find it easy to help in that way and you can share their reasons to inspire others.

If you’re one of the many fundraisers who follow charity: water, you may already know that they’ve stopped focusing on one-time gifts altogether. Several years ago, they shifted their mindset to focus on monthly giving only, thus giving more people access to clean water (1 Million people in 22 countries around the world). With that in mind, I hope I’ve given you the monthly giving “bug” and that it never ever leaves you – the people and animals you serve will benefit!

About Erica

Erica Waasdorp is President of A Direct Solution, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Erica lives and breathes fundraising and can be considered a Philanthropyholic. She works with nonprofit clients all over the country, as well as internationally, on their appeals and monthly giving programs. Erica has published two books on monthly giving; Monthly Giving. The Sleeping Giant (2012) and Monthly Giving Made Easy, a How-To Guide (2021).

She is an Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer, specializing in appeals, direct mail, and monthly giving. She is also the former United States Ambassador for the International Fundraising Congress.

For more information, contact Erica at erica@adirectsolution.com.

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