5 Keys to Starting and Sustaining a Monthly Giving Program

Oct 17, 2019

If you keep up with the latest trends in fundraising, you already know everyone is talking about monthly giving programs. Individual giving is declining, and fundraisers everywhere are looking for ways to fill in the gaps.

Monthly giving can take your nonprofit into the modern era of fundraising. It will help you retain donors at a higher rate, diversify your donor base, and provide a more consistent cash flow.

It also results in higher annual gift amounts over time.

But there are still a lot of questions surrounding monthly giving. Many fundraisers want to launch a monthly giving program, but don’t know where to start.

Or maybe you got started and hit a few roadblocks you weren’t expecting!

Last week, we held a fundraising seminar at the Cornell Club in Midtown Manhattan to address some of these questions. Let’s catch you up on what you missed:

1. Building the Foundation

You need to get things in place behind the scenes before you launch your monthly giving program. There are some important questions you need to ask yourself to determine if your organization has the capacity to launch the program.

For example, you need to make sure your current systems can process recurring credit card transactions. If not, it’s going to be hard to get started!

You also need to decide if you are going to set gifts to expire. Are donors signing up for one year of monthly giving, or will their gift continue to process each month until they stop it?

There is no right or wrong answer, at least in our opinion. But this is a discussion that needs to take place with your business office, and possibly legal counsel.

You will also need to think about any special coding in your donor management system to track start and end dates.

It’s important to have a plan for handling automatic processing issues. For example, set up an automatic email to notify you and the donor if their credit card expires.

And don’t forget to consider other ways donors may want to give. If you accept monthly checks, you will need a plan to handle those. Consider payment options like Apple Pay or PayPal and how you will maintain giving for those who donate this way.

2. Establishing a Brand

You probably have a separate brand for major fundraising initiatives like a capital campaign or big annual event. Your monthly giving program will also benefit from a distinct campaign brand.

Branding your monthly giving program makes it distinct from your other initiatives and reinforces your mission. It also establishes community and makes your donors feel like they are part of something bigger.

Your program’s brand includes obvious things like a name, logo, and dedicated landing page, but there’s more to it.

For example, will you offer any special perks for your monthly donors?

These can help build that sense of community and play an important role in your brand!

Consider a special monthly newsletter, Q&A sessions with your leadership, and public recognition in annual reports as perks for monthly donors.

3. Preparing to Launch

You need to determine your best candidates for monthly giving to start off strong. Use the data you have available to decide who your prime targets are.

Millennial donors, donors who give to every appeal, and those with a multi-year history of making small gifts are more likely to get excited about monthly giving.

Giving Levels or Donor Choice?

You also need to make the right ask. Will you use giving levels, three-tiered ask strings, or let donors write in their own monthly gift amount?

Set giving levels gives the organization more control and makes it easier to tie gift amounts into something more tangible. They also enable you to offer specific perks for donors at different levels.

For example, the nonprofit Walk with Sally offers perks like an annual friendship report and wearable gifts for their monthly donors. Monthly donors are known as Friends of Sally.

The organization is specific about what donors achieve with their monthly gift. A “bestie” who gives $10 per month sends one mentee to one friendship activity. While a $100 per month “advocate” gives six families holiday gifts via the Hope for the Holidays program.

However, donor choice can provide greater flexibility and is easier to launch. Instead of tying a donor’s impact to a specific dollar amount, focus on how year-round support is needed to advance your mission.

Promote Monthly Giving

Once you determine your ask structure, send your targets an appeal focused on monthly giving. Depending on your organization’s size and budget, you may choose to send this to everyone.

Your monthly giving appeal should invite donors to sustain their impact throughout the year. It should introduce your program and its name, reinforce how it advances your mission, and clarify the benefits of monthly giving.

Then, reinforce the importance of your program and promote it in your other communications. Use inserts in direct mail or graphics in emails to remind donors about your monthly giving program. Push it to your audience at events and on social media.

And remind donors of the impact they can have by making their gift monthly whenever they give online. Only 14 percent of organizations prompt donors to “make it monthly” before processing online gifts, according to Nonprofit Tech for Good.

4. Stewarding Monthly Donors

Once your monthly giving program is off the ground, take a minute to congratulate yourself. Then, get ready to keep working! Because we’re just getting started.

One of the main benefits of monthly giving is improved donor retention. But it takes a lot of effort to make donors feel valued and sign on for multiple years of giving.

So, send donors a welcome kit when enroll in your monthly giving program. This should include unique messages about what their gift will accomplish and restate the benefits of monthly giving.

You should also provide information about what appeals they will be suppressed from and who to contact if they want to modify their gift or update their payment method.

But stewardship is never one and done, especially for monthly donors! Send monthly impact emails to let donors know what they’ve accomplished. Get personal with the receipts they receive each month and thank them for their continued support.

And don’t forget, little things can make a big difference. So, when a donor has been enrolled in your monthly giving program for a year, reach out and recognize their anniversary!

Thank them again and share the impact they’ve made over the year. Let long-term donors know what they’ve helped you accomplish in the years since their first monthly gift.

Donor anniversaries are also a great reason to ask for a modest increase in support. Remember, an increase of just $5 a month is really $60 a year!

5. Optimize Your Annual Appeal

Earlier, we mentioned suppression from your other appeals can be a special perk for monthly donors. However, you should still send them your year-end appeal!

If you take the time to make these appeals feel special for monthly donors, you don’t have to worry that you’re asking them too frequently.

In fact, recurring donors make additional gifts 75 percent more often than one-off donors, according to Classy.

So, build a segment for monthly donors before you send your annual appeal. Version your message, restate the sustained impact they’ve had as a monthly donor, and thank them again.

Then, ask for a special year-end gift to supplement their usual contributions! Many organizations will ask for a 13th monthly donation. When asked the right way, these donors won’t mind chipping in an extra $10 or $25 (or more) towards your annual fund.

What else do I need to know?

If your organization is in a tough spot and needs to raise money right now, a monthly giving program is not the right solution.

The goal of monthly giving is to sustain revenue and grow relationships with donors overtime while subtly increasing their annual contributions. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re creating a sustainable foundation to support your fundraising for years to come.

Monthly giving is a great way to get small donors engaged and grow their support overtime. But monthly giving is for everyone! So, invite your board of directors and major donors to give monthly too.

You may not have all the pieces in place. But you don’t have to wait to launch a monthly giving program. Remember, we are focused on growth over time.

This is true for donors, and your program itself. So, start small and do what you can. Then keep evolving and build your program as you go!

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