Recurring Gifts — If You Don't Ask, You Won't Recieve

June 30, 2020 - by Lesley Hostetter for The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Predictable, dependable revenue sources are vital to many nonprofits. Organizations that have invested in building a sustainer program are grateful to have that steady monthly revenue to count on — especially in these uncertain times.

So whether you already have a strong recurring giving program in place, or you have plans to start one, here are some tips to keep in mind.

#1 Automated giving is better for you — and better for your donors. Many donors find it more manageable to “set it and forget it” by making smaller monthly contributions. But you have to make it easy for them to select this option. Street canvassers make the case for monthly support directly, and getting the donor’s credit card gift is easy — but in the face of COVID-19, this model is no longer possible.

Now is the time to make the user experience absolutely seamless online. If your donor wants to give monthly, can they easily find this option on your website, or when they click through an email? Can they sign up in three steps or fewer? Are you even asking them for monthly support? Do donors know this is the best way for them to give to you?

#2 Donors can "set it and forget it," but you can’t. Monthly donors tend to have high retention rates, but with the vast majority giving by credit card, you can lose people when they change cards. You will want to have a strong back-end system in place to recapture expired credit cards, and reactivate sustainers who lapse or cancel. Likewise, don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Go after upgrades, and systematize it so that you ask for the upgrade at specific points in the donor journey.

Don’t forget to keep your eye on these automations, and results. At a time like this, when many people are struggling, you will want to be more sensitive, and consider forgoing an upgrade ask or altering the language in your recapture series.

#3 If at first you don’t convert them, try, try again. In advertising, they say it takes seven times seeing an ad before you actually notice it. So, if you ask once, or try one campaign and get lackluster response, tweak your offer, creative, channel, or timing, and try again. And use all the marketing material you have (welcome kit, acknowledgement, e-news, social media) and every channel you have (email, mail, phones, social) to play up the power of giving monthly. Let people know “everyone is doing it” and plant the seeds for them to convert when they are ready.

Many fundraisers find that reducing friction within the donation process is key to recruiting sustainers. It’s maybe even more important than thinking up a special name or debating price points. That means online, really study the user experience. Maybe all you need to do is offer a “make it monthly” checkbox. Maybe in the mail, you can try adding a monthly option as a secondary ask string, or just promote your URL within the mailing and get donors online where it is easier to enter their credit card and then push the monthly angle with a nudge or premium offer.

#4 Monthly giving isn’t the only game in town. Maybe you have a monthly giving program already and it’s producing incredible results — or maybe you just can’t get your sustainer program off the ground.

If your organization has a strong renewal program, you could try incorporating an automatic annual renewal option. With this approach, donors agree to let you charge their credit card again the following year (and years to come) automatically for their renewal. The organizations offering this are few and far between, but those who are see incredible results — a big boost in revenue and retention.

#5 Asking for a monthly gift is still working. Right. Now. You might think that with economic uncertainty, and high unemployment rates, people are not willing to contribute on a monthly basis at the moment. But that is not necessarily true.

Right now, some organizations are making the case for giving monthly — and it’s working. By talking about how the pandemic has impacted your organization’s finances — and creating authentic urgency OR by stressing the “we are all in this together” community angle OR by playing up the fact that smaller monthly contributions are easier on your donors’ finances … the case for monthly giving is actually pretty strong at this time.

Automated giving is one of the surest ways to increase your organization’s stability, particularly during an economic downturn and time of hardship. If you have not yet tapped into the power of monthly giving, do not wait any longer.


This article was prepared for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, June 2020 | Volume 32, Issue 08, by Lesley Hostetter, Senior Vice President, Lautman Maska Neill & Company.

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