Why Your Nonprofit Needs to Invest in Monthly Giving

Monthly giving is continuing to gain momentum and that’s always good, especially in this time of financial uncertainty. Let’s keep this up! If your organization doesn’t have a monthly/recurring giving program or it’s fairly small, now is a great time to start or grow your monthly giving.

In this post, I’ll tell you why monthly giving is so important for your nonprofit, how to start or grow your program, and how to nurture it going forward. 

Monthly giving helps you raise more money

Monthly or recurring donations can help donors spread out their gifts and it’s easier on their bank accounts. They might be apprehensive about giving a one-time gift of $50 or $100. But if you offer them the option of giving $5 or $10 a month, that may sound more reasonable. 

It can also give you a consistent stream of revenue throughout the year instead of at certain times, such as when you do individual appeals and (virtual) events and when grants come in.

Monthly gifts are smaller, but you can raise a lot of money with lots of small donations. Political candidates do it all the time. Also, monthly gifts aren’t as small as you think. The average is over $20 a month.

It can also be a more feasible way to get larger gifts. A gift of $100 a month may be more appealing to a donor than giving a large sum all at once. Even if they start with a smaller donation, monthly donors are more likely to become major donors and legacy donors.

It raises your retention rate, too

The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

One reason is that monthly gifts are ongoing. But your donors have agreed to that, so this shows they’re committed to your organization. 

These are long-term donors and long-term donors should always be one of your priorities.

How to get started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. Remember, it will help you raise more money, which is even more important during these uncertain times.

A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors. Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. This could be a good way to connect with donors from your most recent campaign. And if you haven’t officially welcomed your new year-end donors, do that now. 

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Put monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal letter, maybe as a PS.

I can speak from personal experience that once I started giving monthly, that’s the way I wanted to give to all organizations. Your donors would probably agree. Each year I’m happier to see that more organizations are jumping on the monthly giving bandwagon.

Organizations that don’t offer a monthly giving option are making a mistake. Some have a minimum donation, which I would also not recommend, if possible. If you do have a minimum, make it $5 a month instead of $10. 

If your reason to have a minimum donation amount is to save money on your expenses, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money. And you should raise more money with a monthly giving program.

Make your monthly donors feel special

You need to do a good job of thanking your monthly donors. Go the extra mile and segment your monthly donors into new monthly donors, current monthly donors, and current donors who become monthly donors.

This way you can personalize their thank you letters to make them feel special. Be sure to mail a thank you letter, or even better, send a handwritten note. An email acknowledgment is not enough.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts, and as I mentioned in a recent post, your thank yous need to be more than a receipt. Yes, it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, but you’re not practicing good donor stewardship if that’s all you do.

You could spiff up these monthly acknowledgments, both by making them sound like they were written by a human and not a robot, and by providing some engaging updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt and use this opportunity to connect with your donors. Pour on the gratitude and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference.

Reach out at least once a month

Your monthly donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month.

You could create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. If that’s too much, you could give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor in your newsletter.

A thank you video is always welcome. Consider personalizing it, if you can. You could also provide other video content, such as a virtual tour, for your monthly donors.

You could include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Many nonprofits start out communicating regularly with their monthly donors and then disappear after a couple of months. Always make a point to stay in touch with your donors.

Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help you with this.

Go all out for your monthly donors

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter or email. If you send a monthly acknowledgment email, be sure to include a link where your donor can make changes.

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this, because most likely they won’t. You also don’t want to miss out on any revenue. Remember, small donations add up.

Set up a system where you can flag credit cards that will expire in the next month or two. Then send these donors a friendly reminder email/letter or give them a call. 

My monthly giving credit card expired last fall. Only a couple of organizations contacted me before the expiration date and one was quite adamant and even contacted me before I received my new card. Of course, a few slipped through the cracks and I didn’t hear from these organizations until after the donations didn’t go through. Remember to take the lead on this.

You could encourage donors to give via an electronic funds transfer from their bank account instead. Then neither you nor your donors need to worry about expiring credit cards.

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

Once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

You can ask your monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors. For example – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? People in our community are having a hard time paying their heating bills because of rising fuel costs.

You can also ask your monthly donors to upgrade their gifts after a year or so. Be as specific as possible – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. Many families are having trouble making ends meet and we’re serving triple the number of people at the Eastside Community Food Pantry right now. Could you help us out a little more with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

If you send the usual generic appeal, imagine your donor saying – “I already give you $10 a month and you don’t seem to know that.”

But if you let those committed monthly donors know you think they’re special, they’ll be more likely to upgrade or give an additional gift. Many monthly donors have stepped up and given additional donations over the last three years. That’s what you want. And, if they do give an additional donation, be sure to thank them for that. Here’s the opening from a great thank you card I received – “How generous of you to make a gift that goes above and beyond your monthly donations.“

Be sure to invest in this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. 

Steps You Can Take to Ensure a Successful 2023

Happy New Year! I hope you had a nice holiday and weren’t affected by severe weather and flight cancellations. My family rented a house on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland that wasn’t well suited for temperatures in the teens, but fortunately our return flight on Southwest took place after they were “back to normal.”

Now that the New Year is here do you wonder what’s ahead for us? The last three years have brought about so much change and uncertainty. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next. 

I’m sure your nonprofit continues to face challenges, but since the pandemic started many organizations were able to confront these challenges and make changes to the way they ran their programs and implemented their fundraising and communications. Some were successful and some weren’t.

If 2022 was not a successful year for your organization, you can work to make 2023 a better year. 

Here are some ways to ensure a more successful year.

Have a plan in place

You must have fundraising and communications/marketing plans. If you haven’t put together these plans yet, do that now! 

You know from past experience that you may need to make changes to your plans. In 2020, organizations that were able to make changes to a plan already in place were most successful.

Take a look back at 2022 to see what worked and what didn’t in your fundraising and communications/marketing. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your 2023 plans. 

Be sure your fundraising plan includes a diverse stream of revenue. Individual giving has proven to be successful. A lot of small donations can add up! Start or grow your monthly giving program (more on that below). Also, look into major and legacy giving. 

You can apply for grants and hold events, but those sometimes require more effort than its worth. Invest in strategies that make sense for your organization.

Revisit your fundraising and communications/marketing plans regularly and make changes as needed. Do this at least every two to three months.

Make sure that donor relations and donor retention are part of your fundraising plan. Those are key to your success.

Pay attention to your donor retention

Many donors have stepped up over the past three years to support nonprofit organizations. You don’t want to lose these valuable donors.

Donor retention should be a priority. You’ll have more success if you work to keep the donors you already have instead of focusing on getting new ones.

First, if you don’t already know it, figure out your retention rate. Do this after every fundraising campaign.

If it’s low, it’s something you can fix, usually with better communication. Donor retention is a huge problem for nonprofits. Your goal should be to have donors who support you for a long time.

It’s easier and less expensive to keep your current donors than to find new ones, so, once again, make donor retention a priority.

That said, you may have some new donors who saw a need and felt a connection to your cause. Don’t let these donors slip away either.

Ramp up your monthly giving program

Speaking of retention, the retention rate for monthly donors is 90%. These donors are dedicated to your nonprofit. 

I’m a huge fan of monthly giving. It’s always made sense, but it’s been especially crucial over the last three years. Organizations that had monthly giving programs saw a steady stream of revenue throughout the year. Donors who opt for monthly giving find it’s easier on their finances. Dedicated monthly donors have also stepped up and have given additional donations.

Work on starting or growing your monthly giving program so you can have a bunch of highly committed donors. A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors.

Monthly donors are also potential major and legacy donors. Remember the importance of individual giving

Do a better job of communicating with your donors 

It’s time to say goodbye to boring, generic communication. Over the past three years, donors have seen real people with real problems in real time. They turned on the news and saw long lines at food pantries. They’ve witnessed a much-needed awareness of systemic racism in our society. They’re hearing stories about how families can barely make ends meet in the current economy.

It makes a difference if you can put things in human terms. Organizations that do this did a better job of connecting with their donors.

Don’t use jargon, such as at-risk and underserved. These terms are demeaning to your clients, especially if they’re people of color. Tell more stories and go easy on the statistics. If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell.

Better communication also means more frequent communication. Donors want to hear from you and they want to feel appreciated, too. Better, more frequent communication will help you raise more money. A communications calendar will help you with this. 

Keep relationships front and center

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors

It’s hard to raise money year after year if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention.

Don’t forget about gratitude

A big part of building relationships is showing gratitude to your donors. Many nonprofits do a poor job with this. 

You need to start by sending a heartfelt thank you immediately after you receive a donation and then find ways to thank your donors throughout the year. Put together a thank you plan to help you with this.

Start the New Year off by making fundraising and communications/marketing plans, if you haven’t already done so. Prioritize donor retention, monthly giving, showing gratitude, and building relationships with your donors. This will help bring you more success in 2023.

A Few Ways You Can Raise More Money This Year

It’s year-end fundraising time. You may have already started your campaign or are planning to soon. 

Nonprofit organizations rely on year-end for a good chunk of their revenue. Maybe you haven’t raised as much money as you planned this year and need to make up for that. Maybe your fundraising appeals never seem to perform as well as you would like.

Fundraising is hard and you can’t just send a bunch of generic appeals and hope the money comes in. If you want to raise more money, you need to put in some extra effort.

One way to raise more money is to segment your donors and send targeted appeals. You also need to have a good CRM/database and follow the ask, thank, update, repeat formula. 

Here are a few ways you can use these tactics to raise more money.

Ask for an upgrade

Many nonprofits don’t ask their donors to upgrade their gifts and they’re missing an opportunity to raise more money. You may be reluctant to ask donors to give more right now because of the uncertain economy, but that’s why you should ask. 

Your clients/community may be struggling and your need is growing. If you can relay this to your donors, some of them will give more. Many donors step up during tough times.

Of course, some of them won’t be able to give more now, but it’s unlikely any of them will upgrade if you don’t ask. They’ll also be more receptive to upgrading their gift if you’ve done a good job of thanking them and sharing updates throughout the year.

Target your upgrade asks based on past giving. Be reasonable. A donor who gave $50 is unlikely to give $500. Here’s an example.

We really appreciate your past gift of $50. Could you help us out a little more this time with a gift of $75?  We’re seeing more people at our food pantry right now because of rising food prices. Your generosity will help our community during this difficult time.

If your donors upgrade their gifts, do something special for them such as sending a handwritten thank you note or creating a personalized thank you video.

Promote monthly giving

Monthly donors are the backbone of nonprofit organizations. The retention rate is an impressive 90%.

The more monthly donors you have, the better. Promoting monthly giving is always a good way to raise additional revenue. You can also send targeted appeals to donors encouraging them to convert to monthly giving.

Your best bet is single gift donors who have supported you for at least two years. They’ve already shown some commitment to your organization. Now it’s time to take that to the next level.

You could do this at year-end, as well as other times of the year. You want to ask for gifts more than once a year, so this can be another opportunity to request an upgrade.

You could also reach out to your new donors in a few months to encourage them to join your family of monthly donors.

Here’s a sample ask. We really appreciate your past gift of $50. Could you make your generous support count even more by becoming a monthly donor? Five or 10 a month will help us serve more families at our food pantry.

Once your donors start giving monthly, they should always be acknowledged as monthly donors. Be sure to give them a special thank you (see above).

Get in touch with your lapsed donors

In January or whenever you finish a campaign, get in touch with your lapsed donors. Not all lapsed donors are the same. A donor who gave last year is more likely to give than the mother of a staff member who left your organization five years ago.

Donors who gave a year ago but not this year may have been too busy to give at year-end. Focus your efforts on more recent donors. If you have donors who haven’t given for several years, you may want to move them to an inactive file. It’s costing you money to mail appeals to donors who are unlikely to give.

You can create appeals based on how long a donor has lapsed. If that’s too complicated, try an ask like this.

We really appreciate the $50 gift you made in 2021. This helped us serve more families at our food pantry. We’re still seeing a growing number of people coming in because of rising food prices. Could you help us out again with another gift of $50 or more?

Some donors won’t give again. Maybe they can’t afford to. More likely it’s because of poor communication. Remember –  ask, thank, update, repeat.

If your lapsed donors give again, be sure to give them an extra special thank you, so they’ll continue to support you without interruption.

I know there’s a lot of economic uncertainty, but it’s important to be savvySpend some time segmenting your donors and sending targeted appeals. Don’t forget about showing appreciation and sharing updates, too. All of this can help you can raise more money 

How to Build Relationships With Your Monthly Donors

Over the summer I’ve written about the importance of building relationships and having a strong monthly giving program. This post combines both of these topics.

Specifically, I want to focus on building relationships with your current monthly donors. 

Don’t take these donors for granted. Monthly donors stepped up during the height of the pandemic and you should be able to rely on them during any economic uncertainty.

This doesn’t magically happen. You need to devote time to connecting with these valuable donors. 

Make a plan

First, create a plan for your monthly donor communication. Although I’m emphasizing summer, you need to communicate with your monthly donors (and all donors) throughout the year. I like to say because these donors support you every month, you should reciprocate by communicating with them at least once a month.

You can incorporate this into your communications calendar. Fill it with ways to show gratitude and share updates. You can use a variety of channels. Here are some ideas to get started.

Send something by mail

How often do you get something personal in the mail? Not often, right? And when you do, it stands out.

How about sending a handwritten note to your monthly donors? Another option is to create a postcard thank you and/or update. Your donors will really appreciate this nice gesture.

Create a video

Videos are a great way to connect and they’re not that hard to create. If you can personalize it, all the better. Otherwise, you can create a general one that thanks your monthly donors.

You can also create a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at your organization or a virtual tour. 

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

Those automatic thank you emails you may have set up don’t count as part of your monthly donor connection plan. It’s fine to create these, but you don’t have to. While these monthly acknowledgments offer donors reassurance that the organization received their gift, they’re often uninspiring. Many of these acknowledgments are just receipts and a receipt is not a thank you.

Spruce them up a little and change the content every few months. Use this as an opportunity to share some updates.

Here’s a timely example from Planned Parenthood.

Ann,

Thank you for supporting Planned Parenthood! Your tax-deductible monthly gift of ___has been processed.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. JWHO is horrifying and dangerous. But all of us at Planned Parenthood remain committed to working to ensure that every patient who needs high-quality, affordable health care can access it.

In this crisis for abortion access, independent providers, abortion funds, and Planned Parenthood health centers will do everything they can to connect anyone who wants an abortion with the care they need.

Your monthly gift to Planned Parenthood fuels our efforts to expand access to abortion and protect affordable sexual and reproductive health care.

With our gratitude for your support, we also want to uplift our partners — abortion funds and independent providers — who are also doing the necessary work to make sure people who need care can access it.

We know you’re invested in our movement because of your generous monthly gift, and, if you’re so inclined, we encourage you to take a few minutes in the next few days to find your local abortion fund or independent provider and connect with them to see how you can help.

On behalf of all of the individuals that your support has allowed us to help, thank you for standing with us.

If you need to change your credit card or billing information, please visit the Self-Service Portal, or contact our Donor Services team by submitting a question online or calling 1-800-430-4907.

Thank you again for your support.

With the exception of using the word processed, I think this is a good acknowledgment. They also include information on how to change your credit card by accessing a self-service portal. This can also give people the opportunity to easily upgrade their gifts.

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

Most likely you’ll communicate by email, which has its pros and cons. It’s easier and less expensive than a postal mailing, but since people get an enormous amount of email, they might miss your message.

One way to get noticed is to use an enticing subject line. Here’s one I like from Pet Partners – Your monthly gift in action 

It goes on to tell a story about a therapy dog who visits a school and interacts with kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD, who have been placed in foster care, and who are dealing with other difficult situations.

Keep your donors engaged with good content

Congratulations, your donor opened your email message. You want to keep them engaged. Here’s the full message from Pet Partners, along with a picture of a thank you note from the kids and the therapy dog Dusty Rose.

Dear Ann,

Your monthly commitment to Pet Partners allows for stability within our organization that directly affects our volunteer experience and the visits they make. Without your support of the human-animal bond, the beautiful impact that our therapy animal teams make wouldn’t be felt. Thank you.

Many handlers partner with other local therapy animal teams to create local community-based groups, as is the case with Santa Clarita Pet Partners Therapy Dogs. Handler Sharon reflects on her time working with this group alongside her therapy dog Dusty Rose as they finish up their visits for the school year at the local elementary school:

“We visit at the school once a week during the school year with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, who have been placed in foster care, and who are dealing with other difficult situations. They always look forward to our dogs. Typically we have three dogs visiting at a time, each assigned to a student by the school therapist. The students will sit on the floor with the therapy dogs to pet them, do tricks, talk, and relax together.

“Dogs create a nonjudgmental environment for these children. Many times during our visits they will share private information and feelings that they have never told anyone else. They might share that someone is being mean to them, or that when they were gone their parents gave away their dog. Life is difficult for many of these students, but they light up at the sight of their furry friends and the unconditional love the dogs offer.”

During one of the latest visits, the children showed their appreciation through a beautiful thank you note. Though this note is written directly to the therapy animal teams, it is because of your support that the children get to experience the heartwarming impact of therapy animal visits.

Make it personal

Be sure to address your donors by name, just like what you see in the examples above. I would also recommend separate communication for new donors and longer-term donors. 

Welcome new monthly donors. You can go a step further with different messages for brand new donors and single gift donors who have upgraded to monthly. Be sure to give special attention to longer-term donors. The average donor retention rate for monthly donors is 90% and you don’t want that to go down.

You can give shout outs in your newsletter and social media, but those won’t be as personal. Some organizations include a cover letter or note for their monthly donors in their newsletters. You could also create separate newsletters for monthly donors.

The key is to stay in touch and keep making connections. Remember to thank these donors every month

Don’t ignore your valuable monthly donors. Keep building those important relationships

Are You Missing Out by Not Making Good Investments?

Your nonprofit organization may have cut back on some expenses over the past two years. When times are tough, some organizations, especially small ones with limited resources, veer towards trimming and often say “we can’t afford this.” This is known as the scarcity mindset.

Be careful before you nix something you think you can’t afford. It may be something you should be investing in.

This doesn’t mean going wild with your budget. You need to make good investments. Here are a few areas you should be investing more money in. The good news is if you do it right, these investments can help you raise more money.

Invest in a good CRM/database

Plain and simple, a good CRM (customer relationship management)/database can help you raise more money. You can segment your donors by amount and politely ask them to give a little more in your next appeal – $35 or $50 instead of $25. Many organizations don’t ask their donors to upgrade their gifts and you’re leaving money on the table when you neglect to do this.

A good database can help you with retention, which will save you money since it costs less to keep donors than to acquire new ones. You can personalize your letters and email messages. Make sure to invest in a good email service provider, too.

Personalized letters and messages mean you can address your donors by name and not Dear Friend. You can welcome new donors and thank current donors for their previous support. You can send targeted mailings to lapsed donors to try to woo them back. You can send special mailings to your monthly donors. You can record any personal information, such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest.

In short, you can do a lot with a good CRM/database. Invest in the best one you can afford, and Excel is not a database.

Worried about spending $50 to $100 a month on a CRM/database? You may be able to make it back if you can ask for an upgrade and personalize your communication.

Nonprofit CRM Software

Invest in direct mail

You may not use direct mail that much, especially over the last two years. Some organizations were never or rarely using it before the pandemic.

If that’s the case for you, you’re missing out on an effective and more personal way to communicate with your donors. Think of the enormous amount of email and social media posts you receive as opposed to postal mail. Your donors will be more likely to see your messages if you send them by mail.

Yes, direct mail is more expensive, but you don’t have to mail that often. Quality is more important than quantity but aim for three or four times a year.

Give a little thought to what you send. Some ideas, besides appeal letters, include thank you letters/cards; Thanksgiving, holiday, or Valentine’s Day cards; infographic postcards; two to four-page newsletters; and annual/progress reports. You could put a donation envelope in your newsletter to raise some additional revenue, but do not put one in a thank you or holiday card.

Shorter is better. Lengthy communication will cost more and your donors are less likely to read it. 

A few ways you can use direct mail without breaking your budget are to clean up your mailing lists to avoid costly duplicate mailings, spread thank you mailings throughout the year – perhaps sending something to a small number of donors each month, and look into special nonprofit mailing rates. You may also be able to get print materials done pro bono or do them in-house, as long as they look professional.

Of course, you can use email and social media, but your primary reason for communicating that way shouldn’t be because it’s cheaper. It should be because that’s what your donors use. If your donors prefer you to communicate by mail, then that’s what you should do.

Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing for Nonprofits

Invest in monthly giving

If you don’t have a robust monthly giving program, you’re missing out on a great way to raise more money. Monthly giving is good for all nonprofit organizations, but it’s especially useful for small nonprofits.

All it takes is for someone to start giving $5.00 or $10.00 a month (hopefully more). These small gifts add up. The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. Plus, they’re more likely to become major and legacy donors.

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Invest in donor communications

By donor communications I mean thank you letters/notes, newsletters, and other updates. Some organizations don’t prioritize these and want to spend their time “raising money.” They don’t seem to realize they can raise more money with better donor communications. Remember this cycle – ask, thank, report, repeat.

Don’t skimp on your communications budget. Creating thank you cards and infographic postcards is a good investment and a necessity, not a luxury. Thank you cards are a much better investment than mailing labels and other useless swag.

Maybe you need to reallocate your budget to cover some of these expenses. You could also look into additional sources of unrestricted funding. 

Remember, you can also use email and social media to communicate with donors. This reiterates the need for a good email service provider with professional looking templates for your e-newsletter and other updates.

Donor Communication for Nonprofits: Essentials & Best Practices

Invest in infrastrucure

We need to stop treating overhead or infrastructure as something bad. Some funders want us to spend our budget on programs, but how can we successfully run our programs if we don’t have enough staff and can barely afford to pay the people we do have? A rotating door of development staff makes it hard to maintain those important relationships. Even though some people may be working from home, we still have rent and other expenses.

Until these funders stop worrying so much about overhead, you may want to invest some time in finding unrestricted funding sources – often individual gifts, such as monthly donations and major gifts.

Why The Nonprofit Sector Can No Longer Dance Around Infrastructure Challenges

Don’t limit yourself by saying you can’t afford certain expenses. If you make the right investments, you should be able to raise more money.

Photo via www.hilltopfinance.co.uk/

Fundraising in an Ever-Changing World

We’ve been through so much over the last two years – the pandemic, an economic downturn, supply chain issues, inflation, a racial reckoning, political turmoil, and climate disasters. Now we can add the war in Ukraine. 

Your nonprofit organization has gone through a lot and is continuing to navigate this ever-changing world. It’s important to not give up and keep persevering.

Don’t stop fundraising

Whatever is going on in the world, please don’t stop fundraising! I know the crisis in Ukraine is on all of our minds right now. Your donors may be supporting organizations that are helping Ukrainians, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop giving to your organization. Let them decide.

Fundraising in Times of Crisis: What Helps Ukraine Most Right Now?

Fundraising in a time of war: what should you do?

You don’t need to be in crisis!

Donors will give if they can. If you’re short on revenue, here are a few ways to raise more money.

Maybe you have a fundraising campaign planned for the spring. If not, you could run an emergency campaign. These were successful at the height of the pandemic. I’m sure you have pressing needs and a lot of people are still struggling now.

Organizations with a strong monthly giving program have done well. Monthly giving makes sense on so many levels. Nonprofits receive a steady stream of revenue throughout the year, monthly giving makes it easier for donors to spread out their gifts, and the monthly donor retention rate is 90%. Monthly donors are also more likely to become major donors and legacy donors. Having a strong monthly giving program will help during times of uncertainty.

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Another option is to reach out to your lapsed donors. Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons. Maybe things have been tough for them financially or they were just too overwhelmed to donate. 

Circumstances change. Reach out to donors who have given in the past, but who haven’t donated in the last year or two. Send them personalized appeals. If you find out a donor can’t afford to give right now, respect that, but keep sending messages of gratitude and updates, unless they opt out. I’ll go into that more below.

The right way to win back lapsed donors

Nonprofit organizations are essential

Never forget that nonprofit organizations are essential. Kudos to you for continuing to provide essential services as best you could.

It doesn’t matter what type of work you do, whether you work with refugees, in human services, protect the environment, or are an arts/culture organization, just to name a few. Your work is important!  

Don’t go silent

One reason donors stop giving is because they rarely hear from you or when they do, your messages are uninspiring. This is something you can control.

Imagine this scenario – Jane Donor has been supporting ten nonprofit organizations. She’s feeling pinched financially right now and has decided to only support seven this year. Which ones will she choose? The ones that regularly send personal messages of gratitude and engaging updates or the ones that rarely or never communicate unless they’re asking for donations?

It’s important to keep up with your donor engagement. An underlying theme of many of my posts is better communication will help you raise more money. 

Even if it’s hard, you can’t ignore your donors. You don’t need to take on too much. Aim for short, high-quality messages once or twice a month. Just don’t go silent.

You can’t ignore current situations

When I see communication that doesn’t reference the pandemic or other current situations, it makes me wonder if the organization is using a template that needs to be revised. It’s a good idea to refresh your messages at least once a year, but in this ever-changing world, you’ll need to do it more often. I elaborated on this in my last post. 

Steer Clear of Generic Communication

The good news is that over the last two years, most donor communication is more personal and less generic. Some specifically reference situations such as the pandemic, economic uncertainty, and systemic racism, while others mention a challenging two years. You also have specific needs and an urgency. Organizations that made this clear raised more money.

Your organization has faced challenges, everyone has, and you need to acknowledge that.

What the future holds

It would be nice to think the worst of COVID is behind us, but we don’t know that. Another crisis may also be looming out there. All this uncertainty makes it harder to plan. Plus, it’s stressful.

Many of the practices we implemented at the start of the pandemic may need to stay. We may be looking at a hybrid of in-person and virtual gatherings for a while. That includes events, donor meetings, and the workplace. If you’ve found some of these have worked better for your nonprofit, you could keep them for the time being.

Donors are going to expect honest communication about your need and want to hear about your success and challenges. No going back to generic messages. If you’ve communicated more with your donors over the last two years, keep that up. If you’ve been holding back, you need to do more. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations. Keep up the better communication. 

Keep up your essential work!

Fundraising in Inflation and Under Threat of Nuclear War. 7 Survival Tips for 2022

Don’t Be Tone Deaf on Ukraine

Why Monthly Giving is Important for Your Nonprofit Organization

Monthly giving is gaining momentum and that’s a good thing. We want that to continue. If your organization doesn’t have a monthly/recurring giving program or it’s fairly small, now is a great time to start or grow your monthly giving.

In this post, I’ll tell you why monthly giving is important for your nonprofit, how to start or grow your program, and how to nurture it going forward. 

Monthly giving helps you raise more money

Monthly or recurring donations can help donors spread out their gifts and it’s easier on their bank accounts. They might be apprehensive about giving a one-time gift of $50 or $100. But if you offer them the option of giving $5 or $10 a month, that may sound more reasonable. 

It can also give you a consistent stream of revenue throughout the year instead of certain times, such as when you do individual appeals and (virtual) events and when grants come in.

Monthly gifts are smaller, but you can raise a lot of money with lots of small gifts. Political candidates do it all the time. Also, monthly gifts aren’t as small as you think. The average is over $20 a month.

It can also be a more feasible way to get larger gifts. A gift of $100 a month may be more appealing to a donor than giving a large sum all at once. Even if they start with a smaller donation, monthly donors are more likely to become major donors and legacy donors.

It raises your retention rate, too

The retention rate for monthly donors is an impressive 90%. That’s significantly higher than other retention rates. 

One reason is that monthly gifts are ongoing. But your donors have agreed to that, so this shows they’re committed to your organization. 

These are long-term donors and long-term donors should always be one of your priorities.

How to get started

If you don’t already have a monthly giving program, make this the year you start one. Remember, it will help you raise more money, which is even more important during these uncertain times.

A good way to start is to invite your current donors to become monthly donors. Your best bet for monthly donors are people who’ve given at least twice. These are donors who have shown a commitment to you.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask first-time donors. This could be a good way to connect with donors from your most recent campaign. And if you haven’t officially welcomed your new year-end donors, do that now. 

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

How To Start A Monthly Giving Program (In 6 Simple Steps)

Make monthly giving the go-to option

Put monthly giving front and center in all your campaigns. It should be an easy option on your donation page. Include it on your pledge form and make it a prominent part of your appeal letter, maybe as a PS.

I can speak from personal experience that once I started giving monthly, that’s the way I wanted to give to all organizations. Your donors would probably agree.

A handful of organizations don’t offer a monthly giving option, which is a mistake. Some have a minimum donation, which I would also not recommend, if possible. If you do have a minimum, make it $5 a month instead of $10. 

If your reason to have a minimum donation amount is to save money on expenses, is that happening if your minimum deters someone from giving at all? You often have to invest a little to raise more money.

Make your monthly donors feel special

You need to do a good job of thanking your monthly donors. Go the extra mile and segment your monthly donors into new monthly donors, current monthly donors, and current donors who become monthly donors.

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

This way you can personalize their thank you letters to make them feel special. Be sure to mail a thank you letter, or even better, send a handwritten note. An email acknowledgment is not enough.

Many organizations send a monthly acknowledgment email or letter, and most are just okay. Some are basically only receipts, and as I mentioned in a recent post, your thank yous need to be more than a receipt. Yes, it’s helpful to know the organization received your donation, but you’re not practicing good donor stewardship if that’s all you do.

You could spruce up these monthly acknowledgments, both by making them sound like they were written by a human and not a robot, and by providing some engaging updates.

One thing you should do is send your donors an annual summary of their monthly gifts. This is extremely helpful for people who itemize deductions. Make this letter more than just a receipt and use this opportunity to connect with your donors. Pour on the gratitude and let them know how their monthly donations are helping you make a difference.

Best Practices For Recognizing, Thanking And Retaining Monthly Donors

Thanking and Retaining Your Monthly Donors

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Reach out at least once a month

Your monthly donors made a commitment to you by giving every month. Make the same commitment to them by reaching out at least once a month.

You could create a special newsletter for monthly donors or include a cover letter referencing monthly donors. If that’s too much, you could give a shout out to your monthly donors and include information on how to become a monthly donor in your newsletter.

A thank you video is always welcome. Consider personalizing it, if you can. Think about offering a video tour or Zoom discussions for monthly donors.

You could include a list of your monthly donors in a newsletter, annual report, or on your website. Donor lists are just one of many ways to show appreciation and not the only one, so do much more than just that. Of course, honor any donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

Thank yous, newsletters, and updates are not a one-time time deal. Keep it up throughout the year. Many nonprofits start out communicating regularly with their monthly donors and then disappear after a couple of months. You need to stay in touch with your donors right now.

Create a special section in your communications calendar specifically for monthly donors to help you with this.

Go all out for your monthly donors

I highly recommend a contact person for your monthly donors in case they need to update their credit card information or make a change to their gift, hopefully an upgrade. Include this information in their welcome letter or email. If you send a monthly acknowledgment email, be sure to include a link where your donor can make changes.

Another way to help out your monthly donors is to let them know when their credit cards are about to expire. Don’t rely on your donors to remember this, because most likely they won’t, especially now. You also don’t want to miss out on any revenue. Remember, small donations add up.

Set up a system where you can flag credit cards that will expire in the next month or two. Then send these donors a friendly reminder email/letter or give them a call. 

You could encourage donors to give via an electronic funds transfer from their bank account instead. Then neither you nor your donors need to worry about expiring credit cards.

Once a monthly donor, always a monthly donor

Once someone becomes a monthly donor, you must always recognize them as such. You most certainly should send fundraising appeals to monthly donors, but not the same ones you send to other donors.

I think the best way to raise additional money from monthly donors is to ask them to upgrade their monthly gift. Be as specific as possible. For example – We’re so happy you’re part of our family of monthly donors and are grateful for your gift of $5.00 a month. We’re serving triple the number of people at the community food bank right now. At the same time, we’re not getting as many people to come in and volunteer. Could you help us out a little more with a gift of $7.00 or even $10.00 a month?

You can also ask monthly donors for an additional gift during one of your fundraising campaigns, but you MUST recognize they’re monthly donors – We really appreciate your gift of $10 a month. Could you help us out a little more right now with an additional gift? We need to keep running our tutoring program virtually for the time being and we want to continue serving as many students as we can.

If you send the usual generic appeal, imagine your donor saying – “I already give you $10 a month and you don’t seem to know that.”

But if you let those committed monthly donors know you think they’re special, they’ll be more likely to upgrade or give an additional gift. Many monthly donors have stepped up and given additional donations during the pandemic. That’s what you want. And, if they do give an additional donation, be sure to send thank them for that. Here’s the opening from a great thank you card I just received – “How generous of you to make a gift that goes above and beyond your monthly donations.

Don’t miss out on this proven way to raise more money, boost donor retention rates, and provide an easier giving option for your donors. 

More on monthly giving.

Nonprofit Monthly Giving Programs Don’t Market Themselves

The Ultimate Guide to Monthly Giving Programs (+ Examples)

5 Benefits of Recurring Giving Programs for Nonprofits

Make This the Year You Segment Your Donors

Do you send all your donors the same appeal and thank you letter? Do you also feel your appeals aren’t bringing you the donations you need?

There may be a correlation here. If you’re not segmenting your donors into different groups, you’re missing a chance to raise more money and let your donors know you recognize them for who they are.

Your donors are not the same. Some donors have given for at least five years (these donors should get a lot of attention). Some are monthly donors. Yet, nonprofit organizations fail to recognize that and send everyone a one-size-fits-all letter. 

Sometimes smaller organizations do a better job of personalization. Not that long ago, I received a generic, one-size-fits-all appeal from a large, national organization. I’m a monthly donor and they didn’t acknowledge that. In fact, the letter included a blurb encouraging people to become monthly donors. Um….

That organization missed an opportunity to do a better job of connecting with their donors. Unfortunately, they are one of many.

When you’re too big to succeed

If you’re not segmenting your donors, make this the year you start. And if you’re already segmenting your donors, kudos to you!

You may be worried about how much time this will take. Plus, you don’t think your current database can handle it and it will cost too much to get a better one. 

In reality, it may cost you more not to segment.  A good database/CRM is worth the investment. Segmenting your donors will help you with retention, which costs more than trying to find new donors. Donor stewardship/engagement is usually easier and it’s more fun.

You also don’t need to create 100 different types of letters. Four or five should be sufficient. Your appeals and thank you letters will stand out if you can personalize them and not send everyone the same generic letter.

Here are a few different types of donor groups. You may want to include others. The more you can segment, the better. Remember, investing in a good CRM/database will help you with this.

Current single gift donors

One of the biggest hurdles nonprofits face is ensuring first-time donors give a second time. If they keep giving after that, they’re showing their commitment to your organization. Don’t blow it by ignoring this.

An appeal letter to current single gift donors (Monthly donors get their own appeal. More on that below.) must acknowledge their past support. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an upgrade. Many organizations don’t do this, but it’s a good way to increase your revenue.

Your donors will be more receptive to upgrading their gifts if you’ve been doing a good job of thanking them and staying in touch throughout the year.

If these donors give again, they should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter letting them know how much you appreciate their continued support. If they’ve upgraded their gift, be sure to acknowledge that, too. 

Potential/new single gift donors

If you’re sending an appeal to someone who’s never donated to your nonprofit before, what is your connection to them? Are they volunteers, event attendees, or people on a list you purchased?

The more you can establish a connection, the better chance you have of getting a donation.

The retention rate for first-time donors is horrible. One of the reasons is poor communication. You can help boost your retention rate by making your new donors feel special.

New donors should get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter welcoming them as donors. Invite them to connect with you in other ways such as signing up for your newsletter, following you on social media, or volunteering.

Then a week or so later, send them a welcome package by mail or email. Personalization is crucial with new donors.

Are We Sure An Automated Email Welcome Series For New Donors Is A Good Idea?

New monthly donors

Brand new donors who opt for monthly or other recurring donations get the same special thank you treatment mentioned above. Welcome them to your family of monthly donors. 

Current monthly donors

Your current monthly donors must get their own appeal that recognizes them as monthly donors. In this appeal, you can either ask them to upgrade their gift or give an additional gift. 

When your donors renew or upgrade their monthly gifts, they, of course, get an amazing thank you.

Current donors who become monthly donors

Your current donors who decide to become monthly donors are also showing their commitment to you. They get a handwritten note, phone call, or letter thanking them for their continued support and for joining your family of monthly donors. From now on they should get specialized appeals and other communications targeted to monthly donors. 

Segmenting your donors makes a difference

In these uncertain times, some donors may cut back on their giving. Don’t let them choose between organizations that communicate throughout the year with engaging personalized appeals, thank yous, and updates and organizations who just send generic, one-size-fits-all communications. People are also looking for a personal connection right now. 

Spending some extra time segmenting your donors and personalizing your communications will be worth it if you can raise additional revenue and boost your retention rate.

Here’s more information about segmenting your donors.

How to Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation: The Ultimate Guide for Nonprofits

4 Smart Donor Segmentation Strategies for Nonprofits

KEY DONOR SEGMENTS FOR A BETTER YEAR-END APPEAL

Making Connections With Your Monthly Donors

Monthly giving on the rise. If you haven’t capitalized on this, what are you waiting for? This post won’t focus too much on starting or growing a monthly/recurring giving program, although if you’re interested in that, here’s more information.

10 Quick Tips to Create a Great Monthly Giving Program

I want to focus on making connections with the monthly donors you already have.

We’re edging into summer, and while this is a slower fundraising season, it’s a good time to connect with your donors, whether they’re brand new or longtime supporters.

Make a plan

Create a plan for your monthly donor communication. Although I’m emphasizing summer, you need to communicate with your monthly donors (and all donors) throughout the year. I like to say because these donors support you every month, you should reciprocate by communicating with them at least once a month.

You can incorporate this into your communications calendar. Fill it with ways to show gratitude and share updates. You can use different channels. Here are some ideas to get started.

Send something by mail

How often do you get something personal in the mail? Not often, right? And when you do, it stands out.

Take some time this summer to create a postcard thank you and/or update or send a handwritten note. Your donors will really appreciate it.

Create a video

Videos are a great way to connect and they’re not that hard to create. If you can personalize it, all the better. Otherwise, you can create a general one that thanks your monthly donors.

5 Thank You Video Examples to Inspire Your Nonprofit

You can also create a video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at your organization or a virtual tour. 

Spruce up those automatic thank you emails

Those automatic thank you emails you may have set up don’t count as part of your monthly donor connection plan. It’s fine to create these, but you don’t have to. While these monthly acknowledgments are helpful, they’re usually uninspiring.

Spruce them up a little and change the content every few months. Use this as an opportunity to share some updates.

Here’s one that could use some work – Thank You for Your Recurring Donation. You have helped us continue our mission in a meaningful way. 

Talk about vague. A specific example of how a donor helped would improve this. Many of these acknowledgments are just receipts and a receipt is not a thank you.

Here’s a  better one. 

Thank you for donating to Malala Fund!

More than 130 million girls around the world are out of school today. Malala Fund believes that girls are the best investment in the future peace and prosperity of our world. Your gift supports our work to see every girl learn and lead without fear. 

Follow Malala Fund on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blog for updates on our fight for girls’ education.

With gratitude, 

Malala Fund

Besides thanking their donors, they also offer other ways to engage.

Get noticed with an enticing subject line

Most likely you’ll communicate by email, which has its pros and cons. It’s easier and less expensive than a postal mailing, but since people get an enormous amount of email, they might miss your message.

One way to get noticed is to use an enticing subject line. Here’s one I like from Pet Partners – Your monthly gift in action 

It goes on to tell a story about a therapy dog who visits with soldiers before and after their deployments.

Here’s another good one, although it wasn’t specifically for monthly donors –  I found a baby bird! What should I do?

This definitely captures your attention and makes you want to read more. 

Keep your donors engaged with good content

Congratulations, your donor opened your email message. You want to keep them engaged. The email I mentioned above gave you information about what to do if you find a baby bird, along with a link to a “handy chart.”

Get personal

Be sure to address your donors by name. I would also recommend separate communication for new donors and longer-term donors. 

Welcome new monthly donors. You can go a step further with different messages for brand new donors and single gift donors who have upgraded to monthly. Be sure to give special attention to longer-term donors. The average donor retention rate for monthly donors is 90% and you don’t want that to go down.

You can give shout outs in your newsletter and social media, but those won’t be as personal. Some organizations include a cover letter or note for their monthly donors in their newsletters. You could also create separate newsletters for monthly donors.

The key is to stay in touch and keep making connections.  The post below will give you more ideas. Maybe you can think of others. And you don’t have to come with 12 different ones. It’s okay to repeat them every few months.

Practical, Creative Ideas to Thank Monthly Donors

Don’t ignore your valuable, monthly donors. Keep making those important connections.

Some Lessons for Nonprofits After Doing my Taxes

I just finished tallying our 2020 donations for our taxes. Always a fun task. Going through all the donation letters and emails triggered a few insights I’d like to share.

Sending a yearly donation summary is very helpful

Most of the gifts I make are monthly donations, and organizations that sent a summary of all those gifts made it so much easier for me. I made some additional contributions when the pandemic started and those were also included.

You may not need to send a summary if someone just made one gift. Your thank you letter can include the important tax information, but there’s no guarantee your donor will keep that.

My suggestion is to send all donors a yearly summary of their gifts the following January. Send it by mail, if you can. This is also an opportunity to reach out. Make it more than just a receipt. Thank your donors and let them know how their gift helped your clients/community during the past year. Some organizations send two pages – one is a thank you letter and the other is a list of all the donations.

Did you forget about me?

I make a spreadsheet of all our donations. I’ll copy the one from the previous year and make changes as needed.

While I was doing this, I discovered I never gave to an organization that I had the previous two years. I forgot about them, but they also forgot about me.

My speculation is they never sent me an appeal. If they sent one by mail, I would have noticed it and made a point to donate again. If it came by email, who knows since I get so much of it.

I also don’t remember this organization communicating in other ways, such as showing gratitude and sharing updates.

I’ve now set up a monthly donation for this organization, so I won’t have to do anything until the credit card expires.

If you don’t even bother to send an appeal letter (and you should send at least one by mail for each campaign), you can’t expect your donors to always remember to give. Running a multichannel campaign with scheduled reminders will help. But you do need to ask, as well as communicate in other ways. 

Don’t let your donors forget about you.

No monthly donor hiccups last year

In past years, I noticed my monthly donations sometimes stopped getting charged to my credit card. Most likely it was because the organization changed their donation platform.

I’m happy to report that this year none of them mysteriously stopped charging. A few organizations did change their donation platforms, but contacted me ahead of time so I could switch to the new system.

If you’re planning to change your donation platform, be sure to give your donors a heads up so you don’t lose any donations. And, be sure to flag expiring credit cards, as well.

Pay attention to what’s going on with your monthly donors. These are some of your most valuable donors.

Donor communication is a mixed bag

It’s not surprising that some organizations do a better job of communicating with their donors than others. A few knock it out of the park, but most range from okay to nonexistent.

If you use PayPal for your monthly donations, they send a receipt each month. In some cases, that’s the only time I hear about that gift. Are you letting PayPal do your work for you?

Other organizations do send their own automated monthly gift receipts and that’s about it. I’ve mentioned before that these can be helpful, but don’t count as a legitimate thank you or any type of donor communication.

Besides monthly donations, I gave some additional donations last year to emergency campaigns when the pandemic started. Some organizations noticed, some didn’t – typical. One organization thanked me by sending a personalized video. Others sent handwritten thank you cards, as well as some pre-printed ones, but they were cards I received in the mail! 

It’s often the same few organizations that go the extra mile, so the rest of you need to step up.

Always remember that better donor communication will help you raise more money. 

Photo via www.audio-luci-store.it