Imagine never having to ask your most important donors for money ever again.
Imagine shifting your focus from solicitation to cultivation.
Imagine being more concerned with how to creatively thank your abundance of donors rather than how to make the next payroll.
That is what a strong monthly donor program can do for you.
But don’t take my word for it. Check out this article in The Nonprofit Times entitled, “Study Proves Triple-Digit Revenue Hike From Sustainers.” The article summarizes the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact’s recent study (Sustainers in Focus) on the power of monthly giving programs.
Key Finding from the Study“Converting donors to sustainers could result in a post-conversion revenue increase of up to 300 percent.”
Throughout my career, setting up a monthly giving program was the single most impactful way that I could consistently change an organization’s long-term sustainability. By shifting the focus of individual giving programs from requesting one-time gifts to recruiting “sustainers” (e.g. monthly gifts), I could see increased overall revenue from our average donors while also improving donor retention rates.
At one organization where I worked, we began with only a handful of monthly donors (most of whom were staff members). Today, that organization has 200+ monthly donors who collectively donate $240K+ per year … more than 10-15% of the organization’s annual budget.
5 Ways to Improve Your Monthly Giving Program
As you prepare for your year-end campaign, I strongly encourage you to explore how you can start asking donors to commit to monthly gifts. You would be surprised how many donors who give you $1,000 at Christmas will commit to $100+ per month – netting you 20% more per year while improving your cash flow and donor retention.
A few ideas to get you started:
- Give it a name. At the organization where I worked above, we called the monthly donors our “Partners.” It could be your Sustainers, your President’s Circle, etc. Try to tie the name to your mission so it will resonate. This matters more than you think, as it can become a rallying cry for the organization.
- Honor members’ commitment. Tell your donors that they will NOT be asked for money ever again … they will just receive updates on the impacts of their gifts. Donors will love this, and you will be surprised at how many continue to give above and beyond their monthly gifts when they hear about big initiatives you are undertaking.
- Keep members informed. The item above is very important, because it makes donors want to open your emails and printed pieces because they know that they are not going to be asked for more money. But you can still educate them on other needs by thanking them for how they are already committed to helping you meet those needs (which is also a soft way of letting them know that they can donate more). “Your monthly support is crucial as we seek to expand our program. Our goal is to raise another $100,000 before the end of the year, and your continued commitment will help us towards that important effort. Thank you for continuing to donate every month!”
- Membership should have its privileges. Invite the members to exclusive events, send them targeted communications that are just for them, and give them special acknowledgment. The latter should be as personalized as possible … for example, every quarter they could get a hand-written thank you note from a client or staff member.
- Emphasize participation, not contribution. It is better to get 100 donors to give you $10 per month than 10 donors to give you $100 per month. In this way, you are not just raising money… you are building a movement. Someone who gives you 12 gifts in a year is going to be much more likely to keep donating in the future; and someone who donors year after year is much more likely to include you in their will/bequest. Here are a few easy groups to target:
- BOARD: Challenge your board to have 100% participation. Imagine telling your donors, “Not only does every board member donate each year … but they donate each month.”
- STAFF: Invite your staff to do the same. This can be a tricky issue, because many of them already forego a huge amount of money simply by working for you, but maybe you can designate the funds towards something that benefits them (“We invite every staff member to donate at least $5 per month. If we hit 100% participation, we’ll close the office at noon on a Friday that we would otherwise be open.”). Who could say no to that?
- VOLUNTEERS: The people who give you their time are able to see what you do better than anyone. After they volunteer, send them an invitation to join the monthly giving program with something like, “We know you cannot be here every day, but you can still be a daily part of our work. Joining our monthly giving circle is the easiest and most effective way to continue to make an impact on our program throughout the year.”
- CLIENTS: I believe that inviting people to donate is a sacred act, one that elevates the impact of their life and that strengthens their qualities of gratitude, wonder, and joy. Nonprofits are shockingly hesitant to invite their clients to participate in this effort. While client-donors are not likely the path towards building your endowment, they could powerfully change their relationship to you (and themselves) by becoming a donor. Inviting them to donate also demonstrates that you value them and consider them an important part of the team. At the organization I cited above, they can proudly claim that “nearly 1 in 5 gifts is donated by a graduate of our program.” This can not only be a powerful testimony to impress other donors on the impact of your work, but it can be an opportunity to transform the self-identity of the people that you serve. “I am not a client; I am a contributor.”
Many thanks to each of you for the work that you do!